Tracking data to advance health equity
Last year, I saw COVID-19 impact the lives of some of the strongest people I know because of their race, class and zip code — especially in my hard-hit hometown of Detroit. But I wasn’t the only one who witnessed this. We’ve all heard how the pandemic has affected vulnerable communities across the country due to structural and long-standing health inequities. Even so, there was no central resource to help consolidate, visualize and understand the data on a national scale.
Over the past year a team of Google.org Fellows and I worked with the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine and a multi-disciplinary Health Equity Taskforce to understand COVID-19 health inequities. Today, we released The Health Equity Tracker (HET), a publicly available data platform that visually displays and contextualizes the health disparities facing communities of color throughout the U.S.
With $1.5 million of Google.org grant funding and over 15,000 pro bono hours donated from 18 Google.org Fellows, the HET parses through a mountain of public health data to record COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations nationwide across race and ethnicity, sex and age, as well as state and county. The tracker also measures social and systemic factors — like poverty and lack of health insurance — that exacerbate these inequities and have resulted in higher COVID-19 death rates for people of color, especially Black and Latinx communities.
Collecting this data showed us where there are gaps in our knowledge. Public health data can be inconsistent, collected in silos or missing completely. Knowing where these blindspots are is valuable. When we’re aware of unknown or missing data, we’re able to take action toward improving data collection and reporting standards.
The tracker currently focuses on data analysis for COVID-19, but in the future we expect to be able to track additional conditions, like mental and behavioral health. And we’ll include analysis of health inequities for people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community and those facing socio economic challenges.
For me, the process of creating this during a time of devastation has helped me translate mourning into meaning. Future generations deserve more complete, accurate, and representative data that can advance health equity in times of crisis and beyond.
Watch Satcher Health Leadership Institute’s YouTube series to learn more about health equity tracker and the Google.org fellows who worked on it.