Health systems require solid analytical structure to navigate issues like health disparities. Brent Lamm, Senior VP and Deputy CIO at UNC Health, shared his system’s integrated structure and the biggest challenges for addressing health disparities.
UNC Health is an integrated delivery system with over 5,500 physicians across the network. Their mission is to improve the health and wellness of patients in North Carolina, according to Lamm.
As Deputy CIO, Lamm oversees most of UNC's integrated department of IT, analytics, and more. There are over 900 IT professionals within the organization, spanning from application and technology teams to analytics and data science.
For about the last decade, UNC Health has been on an analytics journey., Lamm explained. Their system adopted a federated model after realizing the IT organization could not serve the totality of all ongoing data and analytics requests. Analytics is a significant aspect of this model.
According to Lamm, the analytics community is embedded within various operational and clinical departments across the system. A centralized analytics team facilitates this community, allowing individual groups to be agile and nimble while addressing reporting and analytic needs. They work on API connectivity, new datasets, pulling in social determinant data, and creating data assets.
Their organization's IT is centralized, allowing for federated analytics. According to Lamm, UNC's analytics team is within each department. Each business unity or entity has a team member doing its analytical work.
As an integrated organization, the key is to keep a tight community together. According to Lamm, the team feels empowered when working closely instead of individual teams working on their own projects.
"We can control the IT solutions from an overall spend perspective and efficiency, and we can help our IT team can focus on making more and more data available and easier to use data structures and data sets," he explained.
UNC Health is an integrated delivery system. With over 5,500 physicians across the network, its mission is to improve the health and wellness of patients in North Carolina, according to Lamm.
Behind Texas, North Carolina has the second-highest rural population in the United States. According to Lamm, one of UNC Health's most significant areas of focus is providing better access to care and services for this rural population.
Additionally, the system has worked towards health equity. Starting before the pandemic, they have conducted a significant amount of research into the topic. UNC Health has strived to continue bringing out within patient care operations, Lamm said.
For example, their system has worked toward eliminating health disparities through vaccination. They partner with key community groups to bring vaccines to historically underserved areas.
According to Lamm, the organization has been driving operationally-focused analytics to identify better opportunities to close health disparity gaps.
"Health equity work is a huge part of that for us in our rural health initiative," he explained.
The biggest challenge around rural healthcare today is physician recruitment. According to Lamm, it is important to ensure providers and care teams are in place to provide necessary care to these rural areas.
The digital divide is a real challenge for UNC patients, creating more potential health disparities. According to Lamm, the governor's office recently announced initiatives and funding to support the system work.
Lamm explained how the biggest inhibitor to taking advantage of telehealth or virtual care in the next three to five years is bandwidth access. It is a current challenge for network connectivity and quality connections between providers and patients in even urban areas. This becomes increasingly problematic moving into rural locations.
According to Lamm, they are focusing on how to help close this digital divide. By partnering with non-profit government agencies, they work to bring more bandwidth to rural areas.
"I think that could be a game-changer for rural health. If we could really take full advantage of telemedicine and all of the advancements we've made in that space, as well as remote patient monitoring and bring those capabilities to our rural patients," he said.
To make this solution a reality, health systems and their state governments must navigate another challenge: infrastructure. However, these efforts would require substantial funding, Lamm explained.
"We've got a tremendous amount of support for this in North Carolina with big health systems. And we're very fortunate to have fantastic health systems in our state. So there's a lot of support there. And I think it's how we can continue to have a strong voice. Try to help drive available funding for those investments that the carriers need," he said.