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Building Trust and Collaborating for Data Sharing
August 03, 2018

Building Trust and Collaborating for Data Sharing

The National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs, a new initiative of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, was created as a professional home for clinicians, healthcare leaders, social service service providers, researchers, public health officials, data scientists, policy makers, payers, consumer advocates, and others who are working in the emerging field of complex care. We are working toward better-integrated, more efficient care for the relatively small population with complex health and social needs, including necessities often considered "non-medical" such as addiction, housing, hunger, and mental health. The National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs is funded by AARP, The Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Written by Andrew Hamilton, RN, BSN, MS, and Nivedita Mohanty, MD, of AllianceChicago; Cortney Bruno, MSW, Abigail Fallen, RHIA, Teagan Kuruna, MPH, and Stephen Singer, MCP, of Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers; and Sarah Bartelmann, MPH, and Nikki Olson, MA, of Providence Center for Outcomes Research and Education.

Evidence is growing of the influence social factors have on health outcomes,1,2 but healthcare providers cannot, on their own, manage the array of social needs affecting many patients’ health. To address this gap, cross-sector collaborations between healthcare, social service, and government sectors are a growing trend,1,3 and they are beginning to yield positive outcomes for patient health and healthcare spending. Meanwhile, technological advances have changed how health data are collected and stored, creating opportunities for sharing electronic data across sectors. Networks and organizations offering guidance and providing technical assistance to sites at various stages in the development of cross-sector data-sharing relationships have also emerged in recent years. See, for example, New York University’s GovLab, All In Data for Community Health, and Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy.


Complex health and social needs describe a combination of medical, behavioral, and social barriers to health and wellness. Patients experiencing this combination of needs often have poor health outcomes despite accounting for a high proportion of healthcare spending.

Complex care is the care of individuals with complex health and social needs. It is a burgeoning field, consisting of programs tailored to specific patients’ needs.
Cross-sector data sharing is particularly relevant to the burgeoning field of complex care. Individuals with complex health and social needs often cycle through various systems—including healthcare, social services, and criminal justice—without cross-sector communication or coordination. This lack of collaboration can result in ineffective service provision, the exacerbation of existing illnesses and conditions, and higher costs. The integration of cross-sector data allows providers to identify individuals who need the most support and collaborate to address their specific needs, potentially maximizing impact and improving outcomes across systems.4

The creation of data-sharing partnerships requires flexible relationship-building approaches that establish trust among partnering organizations. Conversations with AllianceChicago (Alliance), Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers (Camden Coalition), and Providence Health and Services Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CORE) illuminated 6 strategies for building the trust needed to support collaborative relationships. This brief highlights the way these organizations built trust with their partners.

1. Identify Shared Needs

A first step to building meaningful partnerships between organizations is examining the challenges each organization faces as a result of missing information, and then finding ways to address these shortcomings through data sharing. By discovering a shared purpose, organizations have an incentive to work together.

Alliance: Listen to partners’ concerns
This approach contributed to the success of Alliance’s HealthyRx pilot. One of the community partners that accepted “prescriptions” for exercise plans was the local YMCA. Alliance conducted two, 3-hour listening sessions to better understand the YMCA’s business model, services, engagement approaches, and data-tracking methods. These sessions gave Alliance the chance to hear YMCA’s concerns and questions and learn what the YMCA would need from them to participate in the HealthyRx pilot.

CORE: Respond to existing needs
CORE also works with partners to identify needs that cross-sector data could help address. Through the Community Connections Initiative, CORE identifies individuals who experience poor outcomes by sector and among multiple sectors, such as chronic absenteeism (education) and chronic homelessness or housing instability (housing). The initiative began with CORE conducting site visits with interested partner organizations, scanning data and data needs of more than 20 cross-sector partners, and examining the data of potential partners to find common elements. Next, CORE engaged the partners in deeper conversations, exploring the questions that potential partners would like to have answered about their population’s outcomes and needs. This process gave CORE insight into the kinds of data analysis that potential partners would find most useful and provided a starting point for building the data use case and analysis plan together.

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