December 2, 2021

Data can help address health disparities

Brian Dixon, PhD (left) and Virginia Caine, MD (right)
Dr. Brian Dixon (left) and Dr. Virginia Caine (right)

Local health department used surveillance data to place COVID-19 testing sites

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted existing health disparities, especially for people who are Black, Latinx and of other underrepresented populations. The Marion County (Indiana) Public Health Department used data to address inequities in testing, a strategy that could be applied in the future.

Marion County health leaders used a dashboard developed by Regenstrief Institute, Indiana Health Information Exchange (IHIE) and other members of the Indiana Pandemic Information Collaborative (IPIC) to identify neighborhoods with the highest disease burden. With this information, health officials set up test sites in locations easily accessible to populations in those neighborhoods in an effort to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

“Given the novel and dynamic nature of the pandemic, we based resource allocation decisions on assessments of multiple COVID-19 disease statistics and trends rather than predefined criteria. This allowed us to reach those most affected,” said Virginia Caine, M.D., Marion County Public Health Department director. “We worked with community partners to identify and address challenges related to COVID testing to increase access.”

Data analysis shows that the rate of new cases declined in the targeted groups after the testing sites and associated informational campaigns were established.

“Populations at highest risk of disease should receive extra resources from local health departments,” said Brian Dixon, PhD, MPA, Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health director of public health informatics. “Using surveillance data helps identify which populations are being marginalized and guides health leaders in targeting those groups. Monitoring inequitable disease distribution is one way that local health departments can counter outcomes of systemic racism.”

“This intervention would not have been possible without community partnerships,” said Dr. Caine. “These relationships need to be established and built upon for interventions such as this to be successful.”

The results of Marion County’s program are detailed in a scientific report, “Supporting Health Equity Through Data-Driven Decision-Making: A Local Health Department Response to COVID-19,” published in a special issue of the American Journal of Public Health focused on analyses and perspectives on COVID-19, racism, and public health infrastructure. Dr. Caine and Dr. Dixon are senior authors. Other authors are Elinor Hansotte, MPH; Elizabeth Bowman, MPH; P. Joseph Gibson, PhD, MPH and Virgil R. Madden, all of the Marion County Public Health Department.

About Brian E. Dixon, PhD, MPA

In addition to his role as Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health director of public health informatics, Brian E. Dixon, MPA, PhD, is a research scientist at Regenstrief and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Fairbanks School of Public Health, located on the IU campuses at Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. He is also an affiliate scientist at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center for Health Information and Communication, Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center.

About Marion County Public Health Department

The Marion County Public Health Department is dedicated to help the residents of Marion County achieve and maintain an optimal level of wellness. The Health Department and its partners are committed to embracing and promoting diversity throughout its programs. It encourages an active network of public health and safety professionals and community-based organizations.

About Regenstrief Institute

Founded in 1969 in Indianapolis, the Regenstrief Institute is a local, national and global leader dedicated to a world where better information empowers people to end disease and realize true health. A key research partner to Indiana University, Regenstrief and its research scientists are responsible for a growing number of major healthcare innovations and studies. Examples range from the development of global health information technology standards that enable the use and interoperability of electronic health records to improving patient-physician communications, to creating models of care that inform practice and improve the lives of patients around the globe.

Sam Regenstrief, a nationally successful entrepreneur from Connersville, Indiana, founded the institute with the goal of making healthcare more efficient and accessible for everyone. His vision continues to guide the institute’s research mission.

About the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health

Located on the IU campuses at Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health is committed to advancing the public’s health and well-being through education, innovation and leadership. The Fairbanks School of Public Health is known for its expertise in biostatistics, epidemiology, cancer research, community health, environmental public health, global health, health policy and health services administration.

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