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Digital Empathy

The Importance of Digital Empathy™ When Collecting SDOH Data

By October 17, 2019March 15th, 2022No Comments

The importance of Digital Empathy when collecting SDOH data: The impact a person’s social environment plays on their health, and the value of capturing that information to reach better outcomes is a central focus for many organizations. Case in point, just last week, Atrium Health, a leading healthcare organization in the U.S, announced a pivotal approach to capturing data on Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). Using Cerner’s EHR and the standardized SDOH screening tool PRAPARE, Atrium Health is efficiently identifying patients’ critical needs, allowing them to more effectively improve health and reduce care costs. Beyond the patient, collecting this SDOH data and analyzing it at the population level unveiled certain communities in need of additional support such as those more at-risk for obesity or diabetes.

Atrium Health’s pooling of population data from various sources, including their own database, geo-mapping, and U.S Census data is a critical step, but an equally important choice is how to directly and effectively collect information from patients themselves. NACHC’s PRAPARE tool has undergone rigorous review and validation so that the questions asked and information collected are valuable to driving better health outcomes. Individuals most in need are often those with the poorest health literacy, thus an SDOH data and assessment tool must be personally & culturally adaptable. In a recent interview in Healthcare IT News, Ruth Krystopolski from Atrium Health expressed that, “barriers with the organization’s specific patient population, such as low health literacy and linguistic challenges” can impact the ease of collecting data and reducing data fidelity. This is an essential consideration in designing culturally empathetic questions that are more widely understood, thus increasing data fidelity.

While NACHC follows a multi-step linguistic approval process and frequently welcomes input to further adapt it to meet patient needs, it’s efficacy is always at risk based on how comfortable the patient feels in responding completely and truthfully to the validated questions. SDOH questions can hold particular stigma for many individuals, and if someone is too embarrassed to share that they’re impoverished, fearful, abused, etc. then it is unlikely they will give honest and/or complete responses. The result is lower sensitivity in identifying patients needing support, as well as lower specificity resulting in inefficient resource utilization.

The content of the questions being asked is important, but even more so is the way in which they are asked. This is the essence of applying empathy to the data collection process. When considering data collection processes, paper-based assessments don’t lend themselves to empathetic engagement. Personal interviewing is both time-consuming and not standardized, introducing risks of bias-introduction and jeopardizing the normalization of data captured across a population.

We have been on a journey for more than a decade to embed Digital Empathy into data capture by designing technology that is adaptive for individuals from diverse populations. This includes applying personalized context and introducing dynamic approaches to questioning and phrasing through graphics, rather than text only. Personalized feedback also enhances the context and meaning of questions, thus improving engagement and honest responses. To the best of my knowledge, PRAPARE does not incorporate the use of icons and visuals, and this could further improve a respondent’s understanding and engagement, thus improving data fidelity when collecting SDOH data. SDOH data solutions would benefit from pairing digitally empathetic principals with technology to efficiently capture high-fidelity data from diverse populations to identify patients’ critical needs, improving health and reducing care costs.

To learn more about Tickit and how Digital Empathy can improve the fidelity of your patient-reported data, contact our team at