Transforming Public Health Data Systems
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Commission released recommendations to build a robust 21st century public health data system to advance health equity.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted many gaps in public health data gathering concerning race and ethnicity. How can data better illuminate the ways in which structural racism and other forms of discrimination drive health inequities?
More About The Commission
Equity and overall well-being are not generally part of how we talk about health, and are not emphasized in our data collection. This has to change in order to truly move the needle on health equity and create thriving communities.
The Commission explored challenges and opportunities such as new data sources and measures that show promise for future public health surveillance; data disaggregation to better identify risk and outcomes by race, gender, and ethnicity; building data capacity in under-resourced communities; community involvement in shaping data systems; data interoperability and other important areas.
RWJF challenged this commission to identify the improvements needed to make sure our data systems reflect the harms that racism and other forms of discrimination have on our communities.
The Commission, which included some of the nation’s leading experts in areas such as healthcare, community advocacy, government, business, public health, and others, released their recommendations October 2021.
Meet the Commissioners
Gail C. Christopher, DN is the director of the National Commission to Transform Public Health Data Systems and serves as executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity. Christopher is an award-winning social change agent with expertise in the social determinants of health and well-being and in related public policies. She is known for her pioneering work to infuse holistic health and diversity concepts into public sector programs and policy discourse. In her role as the Senior Advisor and Vice President at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), she was the driving force behind the America Healing initiative and the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation effort. Dr. Christopher also served as Kellogg’s Vice President for Program. In 2015 she received the Terrance Keenan Award from Grantmakers in Health. She chairs the Board of the Trust for America’s Health. She is the visionary for and architect of the WKKF-led Truth Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) effort for America. TRHT is an adaptation of the globally recognized Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) model.
Margarita Alegria, PhD is chief of the Disparities Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Alegría is currently the PI of four National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research studies: The Impact of Medicaid Plans on Access to and Quality of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Treatment, Building Infrastructure for Community Capacity in Accelerating Integrated Care, Building Community Capacity for Disability Prevention for Minority Elders and Latino Youths in Coping with Discrimination: A Multi-Level Investigation in Micro- and Macro- Time.
Mary T. Bassett, MD, MPH, was recently appointed as the Health Commissioner for the state of New York. Bassett has dedicated her career to advancing health equity. Dr. Bassett currently serves as the director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and the FXB professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Prior to joining the FXB Center, she served as New York City’s commissioner of health from 2014 to 2018.
Raymond Baxter, PhD is co-chair of the NASEM Roundtable on Population Health, serves on the CDC Foundation Board of Directors, is a trustee of the Blue Shield of CA Foundation, and serves as an advisor to the Deans of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the UCSF School of Nursing. He most recently served as president and CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, leading its mission to make California the healthiest state and end domestic violence, by addressing the root causes of ill health and inequity. For 15 years, Baxter was Kaiser Permanente's senior vice president for community benefit, research, and health policy. Previously, he headed the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, and The Lewin Group.
Juliet K Choi, JD is chief executive officer of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), a national health justice organization which influences policy, mobilizes communities, and strengthens programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. She is an accomplished cross-sector leader and coalition builder who specializes in change management, system reform and stakeholder relations, particularly in the areas of immigration, civil rights, health care and disaster relief.
Michael Crawford, MBA, MHL is the associate dean for strategy, outreach, and innovation (ADSOI) at the Howard University College of Medicine and Executive Director of Howard University’s 1867 Health Innovation Project. Prior to Howard University, Crawford served as the chief of staff at Unity Health Care, Inc., one of the largest health center networks in the United States. Prior to Unity, Crawford held domestic and international leadership positions at Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Gannett Company. Crawford brings expertise at the intersection of digital health equity, data, strategy, product development, policy, and operations. Crawford’s work focuses on developing scalable digital health and data models to help enhance health access, outcomes, and affordability for medically underserved and vulnerable populations.
Fernando De Maio, PhD is the director of research and data use for the Center for Health Equity at the American Medical Association and a professor of sociology at DePaul University. His research and teaching interests lie primarily within medical sociology and social epidemiology, with a focus on the concept of structural violence. His work has been guided by the notion of 'radical statistics'—the idea that statistical analysis can be used to not just describe the world, but to change it. He is the author of Global Health Inequities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and co-editor of Community Health Equity: A Chicago Reader (University of Chicago Press, 2019) and Unequal Cities: Structural Racism and the Death Gap in America’s 30 Largest Cities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021).
Karen DeSalvo MD, MPH, MSc is the chief health officer at Google. DeSalvo served as acting assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the Obama administration. Under her leadership, HHS set and met historic goals in payment reform, supported transformed models of care delivery, including in primary care, and changed the approach to information distribution in the health system. She also served as the national coordinator for Health Information Technology, where she set national strategy and policy on health IT and championed interoperability in health settings.
Abigail Echo-Hawk, MA (Pawnee) is the executive vice president of the Seattle Indian Health Board and the director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, a tribal epidemiology center. She works to support the health and well-being of urban Indian communities and tribal nations across the United States. Echo-Hawk has been recognized as a national leader in decolonizing data for Indigenous people, by Indigenous people.
Thomas LaVeist, PhD is dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Before joining Tulane, LaVeist was chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the George Washington University, Milken Institute School of Public Health, and spent 25 years on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. LaVeist's research focuses on the development of policy and interventions to address race disparities in health-related outcomes.
Alexis C. Madrigal is a writer at The Atlantic and the co-founder of the COVID Tracking Project. He's been a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley's Information School as well as the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society.
John Lumpkin MD, MPH is president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, since April 2019. He leads the organization in pursuit of its stated mission to improve the health and well-being of everyone in North Carolina through a focus on: transforming the health care system (including oral health), expanding access to healthy food, supporting a healthy start in life for children, improving the physical conditions where people live, and strengthening the ability of communities to improve health.
Amy O’Hara PhD, MA is a research professor in the Massive Data Institute and executive director of the Federal Statistical Research Data Center at Georgetown University’s McCourt School for Public Policy. She also leads the Administrative Data Research Initiative, improving secure, responsible data access for research and evaluation, and is co-founder of the Civil Justice Data Commons. O'Hara addresses risks involved with data sharing by connecting practices across the social, health, computer, and data sciences. Her research focuses on population measurement, data quality, and record linkage. Prior to joining Georgetown, O'Hara was a senior executive at the U.S. Census Bureau where she founded their administrative data curation and research unit.
Jonathan Perlin MD, PhD is president, clinical operations and chief medical officer at HCA Healthcare, where he leads a team in using a learning health system model for improving care at the systems 185 hospitals and 2,200 sites of care. The effort achieved national recognition for preventing elective pre-term deliveries, reducing maternal mortality, increasing sepsis survival, and developing public-private-academic partnerships for improving infection prevention and treating COVID. Prior to HCA, Perlin was under secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is a MedPAC commissioner, a Congressional Budget Office health advisor, chairs the National Quality Forum, and is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine. He has faculty appointments at Vanderbilt University and at VCU.
Ninez Ponce MPP, PhD is a professor in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, and principal investigator for the California Health Interview Survey. Her research contributes to the elimination of racial/ethnic/social disparities in health. Ponce recently served on the Board of Scientific Counselors, National Center for Health Statistics. She has served on committees for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Quality Forum, where her expertise has focused on setting guidance for health systems in the measurement and use of social determinants of health as tools to monitor health equity. In 2019, Ponce and her team received the AcademyHealth Impact award for their contributions to population health measurement to inform public policies.
Chesley Richards, MD, MPH, FACP served at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 1998 to 2020 in several roles including as deputy director for public health science and surveillance (DDPHSS). In this position, he was responsible for strengthening CDC’s science foundation by working across the Office of Science, the Office of Laboratory Science and Safety, the Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services, and the National Center for Health Statistics. A primary focus of his role was to advance an agency-wide public health data strategy and serve as an advisor to the CDC director.
Javier Robles, JD is a faculty member and professor of the Kinesiology and Health Department and is the Director of the Center for Disability Sports, Health and Wellness at Rutgers University. He is the Chair of the New Jersey Disabilities Covid-19 Action Committee and was appointed by Gov. Murphy to the Puerto Rico commission. Robles is a Board member of the United Spinal National Board and the Vice President of the Latino Action Network of New Jersey (LAN). He is past President of Thisabled, LLC, an organization that provides support to persons with disabilities through self-empowerment and perseverance. He is the Founder of the Facebook Group, “People with Disabilities Helping Each Other Survive the Coronavirus.” Robles has written for numerous publications including, Latinos NJ, ThisAbled Nation, New Mobility. One of his poems was recently published in the book, Access Granted.
On the Frontlines: Efforts to Advance a More Equitable National Public Health Data System
Inspired by the Commission’s recommendations, RWJF is helping to support a range of projects designed to accelerate progress in data systems and modernize public health data infrastructure across the country.
Follow the conversation on social with #EquityandData
Grantee highlights include:
- Modernized Anti-Racist Data Ecosystems (MADE) for Health Justice is a new grant opportunity, administered by the de Beaumont Foundation, that seeks to accelerate the development of health-focused local data ecosystems that center principles of anti-racism, equity, justice, and community power. Up to five non-profit organizations will be funded to build and facilitate multisector teams tasked with creating local data ecosystems. The application deadline is August 31, 2022. Learn more at www.madeforhealthjustice.org.
- The CDC Foundation awarded $125,000 to five local data equity coalitions to use PLACES health data to design innovative solutions that address the social and structural factors that influence local community health outcomes.
- Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP) at the University of Pennsylvania selected its first cohort of community site teams to participate in their Equity in Practice Learning Community to center racial equity in data integration.
- The Public Health National Center for Innovations (PHNCI) is convening its 21st century learning community, a group of 18 states working on statewide public health transformation. PHNCI will engage a subset of states in examining and implementing the Commission's recommendations.
- The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine awarded planning grant awards of $100,000 to two historically black universities to investigate how social determinants of health data can transform public health data systems to better address health disparities faced by communities in the Gulf of Mexico region. Learn more about the funding opportunity.
Grant Initiatives Organized by overarching Commission Recommendations
RWJF is committed to the Commission’s recommendations for a modernized public health data infrastructure where data are collected, analyzed, and interpreted with an eye toward equity. The foundation has committed an initial $50 million in funding toward that goal.
Center Health Equity and Well-Being in Narrative Change
- Developing key well-being metrics to improve health and equity in Atlanta
- Engaging communities to advance health equity in national public health surveillance data
- Improving data collection to better examine the health impacts of incarceration
- Supporting the discovery of evidence-based tools that combat misinformation and disinformation in public health
Ensure Public Health Measurement Captures and Addresses Structural Racism and Other Inequities
- Disaggregating the data of Indigenous people and respecting sovereignty
- Improving federal OMB standards for collecting race and ethnicity data
- Strengthening data integration between criminal justice and public health
- Testing the predicting power of SDOH indices in federal health programs
- Transforming machine learning datasets for equitable healthcare outcomes
Prioritize Equitable Governance and Community Engagement
- Accelerating the implementation of the federal Evidence-Based Policymaking Act
- Catalyzing health departments and partners to advance data modernization and health equity
- Closing gaps in the healthcare of high-risk populations with new interoperability standards
- Evaluating RWJF investments to transform public health data systems
- Implementing Racial Equity Principles within Integrated Data Systems
Advancing state and local policy change to promote data disaggregation
Supporting HBCUs to enhance data capacity and address climate and health concerns in the Gulf South
Transforming local data infrastructure to advance health equity
“A disability data justice approach is urgently needed. Public health data systems and infrastructure must be built to collect disability data and use this information to combat ableism and support equity and social justice,” writes Bonnie Swenor, member of RWJF’s Expert Panel for the National Commission to Transform Public Health Data Systems.Read the Health Affairs blog post
“We need to do more than just talk about the social determinants of health—we need to operationalize them within a justice-focused data framework,” write Commission Director Gail Christopher and Alonzo Plough, RWJF vice president, Research-Evaluation-Learning and chief science officer.Read the Health Affairs blog post
Drawing from the insights of nearly 500 people representing communities across the United States, this report shares findings and actionable recommendations for creating equitable community data ecosystems.Read the report
“We need good, timely public health data to create a true public health narrative that advances equity and centers power in the community—in this case, the disability community,” writes Commissioner Javier Robles, National Commission to Transform Public Health Data Systems.Read the op-ed in The Hill
In a second webinar, experts walked through the Commission recommendations and actionable solutions to reimagine and transform our public health data system.Listen to the webinar recording
In the fall of 2021, participants joined RWJF for an interactive discussion of the Commission report, discussing recommendations and hearing insights from experts about how and why we must prioritize equity in data.Listen to the webinar recording
“Our hope is that these recommendations serve as a catalyst for meaningful change before the next public health crisis hits. It’s impossible for the nation to fix what isn’t measured,” said Alonzo Plough, RWJF vice president, Research-Evaluation-Learning and chief science officer.Read the Health Affairs blog post