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What database helps researchers ID variables affecting health?

Enhancing AHRQ’s Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Database

Challenge

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the social, economic, and environmental factors that influence people’s health outcomes and access to health care services. These factors can include income level, education, housing quality, access to nutritious food, and social support networks.

Although many variables exist for patient‑centered outcomes research, they are not easy to access or streamline into 1 database. The goal of AHRQ’s SDOH database, developed with funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR) Trust Fund, is to provide accessible, SDOH-focused data for research, inform health strategies, and, ultimately, help improve health outcomes.

AHRQ wanted an updated SDOH database for researchers to easily find and use a wide range of the most relevant, well-documented, readily linkable SDOH variables at the census tract, zip code, and county levels. AHRQ turned to Westat to update and further develop this database to improve usability, as well as increase the number and diversity of users.

Solution

Westat brings our collaborative experience to this project with team members across Westat sectors: health services researchers, geospatial analysts, data visualization experts, and leaders in evaluation design and implementation. Westat, along with Pantheon, shows data expertise, efficiency, and quality control strengths as we update the database and add new SDOH metrics for each new version.

We also highlight our small area estimation (SAE) techniques by continuing to build out measures at smaller geographies as well as create new Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) indicators creating efficiencies across projects.

We have the capability to produce novel data visualizations using the latest visualization and geospatial software, which can help highlight health inequities locally or across the nation.

Westat also leads stakeholder engagement and dissemination tasks to effectively promote and market the database and determine whether the needs of the diverse database users are met.   

Westat will continue to add new measures and data sources across a range of SDOH domains (housing, transportation, access to care, COVID preparedness) in future versions of the database. We will also develop new ways to engage users through novel data visualizations, implementation from user feedback, and conference presentations to increase use and applicability of the SDOH database.

Results

The SDOH database provides easily accessible data to researchers across many sectors. These researchers are producing research and policy that will improve patients’ quality of care, perceptions of care, well-being, and health outcomes. In addition, creating, maintaining, and improving the SDOH dataset will help health care providers and government and community-based organizations develop policies focused on holistic patient care that will improve the health of all people and reduce health inequities.

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