By Erin Cristales, Vizient

Published: October 5, 2022

“We not only have environmental data, but data surrounding social needs vulnerabilities such as access to housing, transportation, healthcare and education, and how these contribute to human health in different ways. Many environmental hazards geographically exist where people don’t have a lot of choices.” — Heather Blonsky, Vizient Lead Data Scientist

Health equity is a jigsaw puzzle of sorts — a collection of disparate but interconnected complexities that on their own reveal only one tiny part of a much larger challenge. If you want to see the full picture, you have to join the pieces. How else to develop holistic solutions for a problem that has splintered into so many perplexing parts?

Think of the patent pending Vizient Vulnerability Index™ as the metaphorical hand that assembles the pieces into a comprehensible whole. While tools such as the EPA’s recently released Environmental Quality Index look at factors such as air, water, land, built and sociodemographic environments to provide a county-by-county snapshot of overall environmental quality and inequity across the U.S., the Vizient Vulnerability Index takes that work a step further. The layering of the index's extensive data sets illuminates how multiple social needs and the quality-of-life issues that inevitably accompany them are inextricably linked to health and environmental inequities — unearthing the root of the problem.

The index integrates data from various sources to provide deeper insights regarding community needs, including American Community Survey 2020 (US Census) five-year estimates averaging 2016-2020 survey data; USDA “food desert” measure of low-income population beyond a half mile (urban) or one mile (rural) from a grocery store; HUD “severe housing cost” measure of housing cost burden over 50% of income; provider shortages, broadband availability, opioid dispensing, crime rates, and EPA data on air and water pollution and chemical and waste hazards.

The Vizient Vulnerability Index identifies nine social needs domains that become even more insightful when combined with patient outcomes data from Vizient’s Clinical Data Base?(CDB), a repository of patient outcomes data from more than 1,000 Vizient member hospitals that includes more than 88 million distinct patients of all ages and payer groups. When used together, hospitals gain a deeper understanding of the obstacles their patients face in accessing healthcare and how those obstacles uniquely impact patient outcomes. 

“We not only have environmental data, but data surrounding social needs vulnerabilities such as access to housing, transportation, healthcare and education, and how these contribute to human health in different ways,” said Heather Blonsky, Vizient lead data scientist. “Many environmental hazards geographically exist where people don’t have a lot of choices.”

The connection between sustainability and community health has recently received increased attention due to the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which invested $369 billion in climate solutions and environmental justice. Vizient has long served as a leader in these areas as well. With roughly 80% of healthcare emissions stemming from the supply chain, Vizient has initiated programs such as Environmentally Preferred Sourcing, which offers the industry’s broadest, most cost-effective environmentally preferred portfolio with more than 450,000 contracted products. The recently launched Vizient Domestic Sourcing — dedicated to ensuring a resilient supply chain through increased domestic manufacturing — looks to offset global emissions by confining transportation of goods to U.S. borders. And in June, Vizient CEO Byron Jobe joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s pledge to decarbonize the healthcare sector and make healthcare facilities more resilient to the effects of climate change.

The Vizient Vulnerability Index is a perfect partner to Vizient’s continued focus on improving sustainability in healthcare. After all, providers aren’t just committed to healing patients but to ensuring the long-term health of the communities they serve.

“Healthcare institutions are essential contributors to their communities,” said Cristina Indiveri, Vizient AVP, strategic programs and contract services. “The Vizient Vulnerability Index is a game changer in the industry because it easily connects and illustrates how social drivers of health relate to health equity and sustainability by quantifying the impacts. This is crucial for healthcare organizations whose missions focus on creating healthy environments and improving overall health within their communities.”