As we progress into the future, humans are generating more data than ever before – most of which is being used for commercial purposes.

However, these new sources of data could have a significant impact on healthcare helping to save lives, stress, and money. The third in a series of Orion Health blogs explores socio-economic data and its potential in healthcare.

Socio-economic Data

Socio-economic data is information produced by analysing social and economic variables. Examples of this data, which can provide insights on a person’s health, can be found in everything from an individual’s address to their taxes to their level of education.

It is available, reliable, and proven as a solid source for analysis – thanks to the large number of industries that have experience working with the data. It’s value to healthcare comes from the behavioural patterns it can reveal, which are largely unavailable with traditional data sets.

Basic data, such as age and ethnicity, is a good foundation for drawing analysis but the addition of the socio-economic data-type can provide far greater insights into an individual’s health. Collating all of this information will allow for better and more accurate healthcare. For example, if a clinician was to look at two physically equal people of the same age, gender and ethnicity with similar traditional health records, both with respiratory illnesses – then they’d be inclined to treat them in the same way. However, if the clinician had access to another level of data they may be able to tell that one of the patients lived in poverty while the other was more affluent. This insight could have a significant impact on both the diagnosis and treatment.

‘Negative’ information – such as an individual’s legal troubles, accidents, bankruptcies, and evictions – can indicate approaching problems such as financial strain. This strain often correlates with periods of high stress which can have significant health consequences and needs to be addressed. Socio-economic data could also help with the prediction of a number of other healthcare issues – which place significant strain on healthcare resources – such as medication adherence and readmissions.

The American Academy of Nursing , among a number of other clinicians, believe that these data sets can be incredibly beneficial and stated in a widely circulated report that adding socio-economic data to the Electronic Health Record (EHR) would have significant impact on a population’s health.

“Clinical care currently accounts for only 20 percent of health outcomes. To improve care and population health outcomes, healthcare providers must address other factors, including social determinants of health. To do this, we must first focus on addressing the variability in capturing and documenting social determinants in order to use this health data to benefit patients.”

Much like behavioural data, there will be debate regarding privacy, especially as the call for the integration of socio-economic data gets louder. Like many other technologies, it is imperative that the benefits are communicated to patients so that they are comfortable sharing this data with the health sector. As a result, clinicians will be able to diagnose more accurately and provide more effective treatment to patients, contributing to healthier populations.