A new study released in September 2019 by the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality (WCHQ) and supported by the Wisconsin Partnership Program, provides a unique set of data that sheds light on how patients experience healthcare —and health disparities —across Wisconsin health systems and medical clinics.

The WCHQ Health Disparities Report was developed in collaboration between WCHQ and the University of Wisconsin Health Innovation Program (HIP) and co-authored by Maureen Smith, MD, MPH, PhD, Professor, Departments of Population Health Sciences and Family Medicine and Community Health and Matt Gigot, WCHQ director of performance measurement and analysis. The work is supported through a four-year strategic grant from the Partnership Program’s Partnership Education and Research Committee (PERC).

The study identifies where gaps in health outcomes and care exist in Wisconsin. The data is categorized based on race and ethnicity, insurance coverage and geography. The data was submitted to WCHQ by 25 health systems and medical clinics and it represents the most complete and recent (2018) data available for this work. The measures selected for the report include: vaccinations, screenings, risk factors and chronic disease. The report found that some people in Wisconsin are experiencing a wide range of substantial disparities across several measures.

The Wisconsin Partnership Program recognizes that the most effective way to eliminate health disparities is through collaboration among many partners across campuses, communities, clinics and health systems as well as other public and private entities. Dr. Smith acknowledges how instrumental partnerships were to the success of this project. “This project could not have been achieved without the partnerships among WCHQ, HIP, the participating health systems —and their impressive commitment to share data — and support from the Partnership Program.”

“Wisconsin’s health systems play a key role in eliminating health disparities, and they have worked diligently to continue to improve the quality of care they deliver,” says Greg Nycz, Executive Director, Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc. and PERC member. “We know that measurement is an effective way to monitor health disparities, and we believe by illuminating and reporting on these measures within individual health systems, the systems will be motivated to pursue positive change in these areas.”

The project team recognizes that improving health outcomes across communities will require more than the attention and efforts of the individual health systems. “Our goal was to identify and report disparities to promote public accountability, improvement, and action by multiple stakeholders,” says Dr. Smith. “However, to reduce disparities, stakeholders may need focused efforts to address selected measures, as well as strategies that address the root causes of poor health, such as poverty, housing, food insecurity and other factors.

The Partnership Program has also invested in initiatives aimed at reducing health disparities at the system-level at Marshfield Clinic Health System and Sixteenth Street Community Health Center. In addition, the Partnership’s investments in medical education and training support a curriculum that emphasizes health equity. This ensures that future physicians and public health leaders are prepared to address health disparities within communities and health systems.

“This project is an important strategic investment that aligns directly with our goal to advance health equity and improve health and well-being for everyone in Wisconsin,” says Richard Moss, PhD, SMPH Senior Associate Dean and PERC Chair. “It’s our hope that this innovative resource can be used to catalyze efforts to reduce health disparities within clinical settings, and serve as a call to action to policy makers, employers and communities to develop appropriate approaches to addressing these health gaps as well.”

Chris Queram, WCHQ President/CEO, acknowledges that improving health is good for communities and good for business too. “Health equity is a community strength and an economic development asset. People want to live and work in areas where everyone has an equal opportunity to be healthy,” Queram said. “This report will help us get a step closer to that goal.”