Minnesota health leaders discuss data modernization – State of Reform

Minnesota health leaders met last week for the Minnesota Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and Minnesota E-Health Initiative virtual series to discuss data modernization and the advancement of health equity. This meeting marked the first session of the series, and panelists agreed that greater partnerships are needed.

Brooke Cunningham, MD, PhD, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (DOH), said the state is receiving more investments from the federal government for data modernization and strategy than ever before. She discussed the notion that Minnesota needs 21st century data for a 21st century public health system. 


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“It means that we need to transform our ways of collecting, using, and sharing information. We need to modernize our approach to partnerships around data, and create more equitable power structures. We need to move towards using real-time, granular data to drive change in health outcomes and equity.”

— Cunningham

The use of real-time data will allow Minnesota to better tailor their health response, Cunningham said. If this real time data is unavailable, then staff must gather this information, which can create delays in picking up on disease trends in communities and identifying potential outbreaks. She said electronic lab reporting is crucial to epidemiological response. 

The DOH has been working on demographic data standards and disaggregating data for diverse populations. Minnesota’s BIPOC community includes a large portion of individuals originally from East Africa, newer-generation Americans, and individuals with deep-seeded roots in the region. Cunningham said the department acknowledged the different experiences of each community, and that the diversity of these groups must be captured to create targeted and effective responses for treatment and care. 

The department has been partnering with the University of Minnesota to increase the diversity of the healthcare workforce in the informatics field. Cunningham highlighted the four-year, $7.9 million TRIUMPH grant

“As part of the TRIUMPH grant, we’re able to provide training in informatics to more than 100 state and local health department staff, to place students in internships with the Minnesota Department of Health and again, particularly, the focus of TRIUMPH has been on underrepresented students in the field of informatics—clearly that is really important for our future in Minnesota,” Cunningham said. 

Steve Johnson, PhD, assistant professor at the Institute for Health Informatics, said the University of Minnesota has a high interest in educating the healthcare workforce. 

“Healthcare research is really a team sport,” Johnson said. “The problems are big, and we need different types of collaborations, different types of expertise. We need clinical expertise, informatics, and data science.” 

Mark Cullen, vice president of strategy and business development at Trellis, a nonprofit focused on the wellbeing of older adults, spoke about the nonprofit’s experience with building relationships with other sectors. 

“We know what it’s like to build networks and serve the needs of an aging population. Like many of you, we’ve been working to meet the coming integration of healthcare and social care, and we’re excited for what that can mean for communities and our neighbors,” Cullen said.

According to Cullen, Minnesota has one of the largest and most diverse nonprofit sectors in the country. He highlighted the importance of gathering new data from community settings, which would allow Minnesota the opportunity to lead the integration of healthcare and social care. Cullen brought up his work with Juniper—a social care provider network.

“We’ve built a social care provider network made up of community-based organizations, and we’ve intentionally aligned that network with the clinical network so that we can better serve Minnesotans across our state.”

— Cullen

Funding to create Juniper came from partnerships with the DOH, the federal government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and private philanthropy, among others. Juniper has expanded into social care navigation through community health workers. He said that so far this year, 17 percent of individuals served are BIPOC, and 51 percent of those served reside in rural communities. With this information, Cullen said the state can be more intentional about bringing more services to these communities.


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