“Vizient members are committed to serving their patients and doing everything they can for people who have obstacles to care. The index provides the context they need to help them focus those efforts to provide effective interventions."—Heather Blonsky, Vizient Data Scientist

Health care organizations rely on data to identify the health issues and social needs that significantly impact their patients. But wrangling publicly available data to understand patients’ specific obstacles to care is challenging and makes it difficult for hospitals to provide the right resources for the right people to improve health equity.

Data from the American Community Survey, USDA, EPA, HUD and other sources include rich information however, health systems find this data challenging to wrangle.  As a result, many hospitals resort to leveraging existing social needs indices such as such as those from the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index as well as others like the Distressed Communities Index and Area Deprivation Index, that although do an excellent job of identifying poverty, leave an information gap on other specific, neighborhood-level risk factors. In turn, hospitals may not have full insights into their community’s social needs

Heather Blonsky, Vizient data scientist, is working to bridge these data gaps with the development of the patent pending Vizient Vulnerability Index™. The index integrates data from these sources to provide deeper insights regarding community needs:

  • American Community Survey 2019 (US Census) 5-year estimates averaging 2015-2019 survey data
  • USDA “food desert” measure of low income population beyond a half mile (urban) or one mile (rural) from a grocery store
  • EPA data on air and water pollution
  • HUD “severe housing cost” measure of housing cost burden over 50% of income

 “This unique index is valuable for providers because it has the ability to go beyond the basic characterization of health disparity – namely, poverty. It enables us to distinguish specific neighborhood vulnerabilities and their impact on community health outcomes and life expectancy in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Blonsky said. 

The Vizient Vulnerability Index identifies eight social determinants of health domains that become even more insightful when combined with patient outcomes data like Vizient’s Clinical Data Base (CDB), a repository of patient outcomes data from more than 900 Vizient member hospitals and includes more than 88 million distinct patients of all ages and payor groups. When used together, hospitals gain a deeper understanding of the obstacles their patients face in accessing health care and how those obstacles uniquely impact patient outcomes.


Watch: Leveraging Data to Map Health Equity

A resource to build strategy and meaningful programs

By identifying specific obstacles to care, intervention strategies can be defined and tested.  And with the identification of provider peer groups that serve similar neighborhoods, best practices can be shared.

“Vizient members are committed to serving their patients and doing everything they can for people who have obstacles to care,” Blonsky said. “The index provides the context they need to help them focus those efforts to provide effective interventions.”

More specifically, the Vizient Vulnerability Index can:

  • Characterize health system patient community vulnerabilities – Identify key social determinants of health factors driving vulnerabilities within the community.
  • Provide insights between community vulnerability and patient outcomes that could inform potential interventions– Identify specific vulnerabilities associated with specific risks and patient outcomes and contribute to a patient-centered, longitudinal approach to outcomes, that extends beyond the inpatient acute-care focus.
  • Identify peer hospitals in ‘communities-like me’ with similar health equity challenges – Provide peer-to-peer comparisons based on specific health equity challenges and identify hospitals that have developed effective interventions that could be best practices in the context of their patient population.


Watch: Impacting Change Beyond Healthcare, Heather Blonsky, MAS, Vizient Data Scientist

For more information about the Vizient Vulnerability Index, contact Heather Blonsky.

Published: April 27, 2022