Data Helps Drive the Mission of Helping the Most Vulnerable During COVID-19, Dr Cacchione Says

Joseph Cacchione, MD, FACC, executive vice president of Clinical & Network Services at Ascension, discusses how collecting data on social determinants on health and food insecurity helped address health equity during the pandemic.

Ascension, with 151 hospitals in 20 states, is distinguished by both its size and its mission: as a faith-based organization, the health system is “dedicated to transformation through innovation across the continuum of care.” 

Data analytics has played an important role in helping Ascension identify which patients needed COVID-19 vaccines and care for chronic conditions during the pandemic, according to Joseph Cacchione, MD, FACC, executive vice president, Clinical & Network Services, who recently sat down for an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive™ for a wide-ranging interview that covered vaccine delivery and hesitancy, as well as aspects of the multi-state health system's response.

Segments appearing over the next week have been edited lightly for clarity.

CHE: The pandemic has brought to light issues of healthcare equity, how does Ascension’s position as a mission-driven health system drive your response to this issue?

Cacchione: The one thing that the pandemic did demonstrate is there is a lack of health equity. And so, part of our response was proactively reaching out to those high-risk social vulnerability index folks. That was the first thing that we did, and [we] collected that data on people and [were] able to have a robust analytics program. We're able to reach find those socially vulnerable patients, and bring them in proactively—not just for COVID, or COVID vaccines, but also to urge them to come back and get their screening, get their diabetes care for all the things that we do to care for people we were doing that proactively and bringing people in. And we also now collect data on social determinants of health. And we have data on over 400,000 people, and under identifying who's at risk based on social determinants, food insecurity. And we've now partnered with a company called Aunt Bertha, which inventories resources around the country that we can then [use]. So, if somebody identifies food insecurity as one of their social determinants, we can direct them to the app or the Aunt Bertha site, or the physician themselves to look at the app or the site and say, “Here are two food pantries that you can access food from, you meet the criteria, this will help you with your food insecurity.” So, [we’re] doubling down on better understanding social determinants and how they're impacting care long term.