NQF releases recommendations to help Medicaid programs standardize SDOH data collection

Grocery store fruits and vegetables
Standardizing data collection efforts for issues like food insecurity will help providers connect patients with community resources. (Getty/Noel Hendrickson)

Amid a growing recognition that environmental factors like food and housing are influential to health outcomes, the National Quality Forum (NQF) has released a framework for Medicaid programs to improve data collection for social determinants of health (SDOH).

In a report released in collaboration with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), NQF outlined six recommendations for data collection moving forward, including the creation of new standards for inputting and extracting data from EHRs, harmonizing data collection tools and expanding Medicaid waivers to evaluate approaches to patient care that account for social and environmental factors.

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Acknowledging the work that some states have already done to integrate information on social determinants of health, NQF said the types of tools used to collect and analyze information may vary, but there needs to be a broader industry consensus about which information should be prioritized. Establishing baseline data collection standards will allow providers to share information across health systems and reduce duplicate reporting.

A major part of that effort includes altering data input fields within EHRs. Looking beyond diagnostic codes, the panel of experts recommended incorporating specific standards for food insecurity and housing instability which would allow providers to coordinate with community resources. The report acknowledged there may also be opportunities for “passive” data collection through smartphones despite the numerous barriers that exist currently. 

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“This report shares important, practical guidance for healthcare and community stakeholders to work together toward a more holistic approach to improving the health of our nation’s most vulnerable populations,” Romana Hasnain-Wynia, Ph.D., chief research officer of Denver Health and chair of the NQF Expert Panel, said in a release.

NQF has been a leading proponent of incorporating SDOH data at the point of care. Last year, the organization partnered with Aetna to develop national data collection standards while emphasizing the importance of having the right technology in place to capture that information. Meanwhile, the American Medical Informatics Association says access to high-speed internet is increasingly becoming an SDOH.

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