The health equity index (HEI) is a flexible metric to standardize identification of disparities across patient populations. First developed by leaders at Sutter Health, the metric leverages existing health system and population data to measure actual hospital encounters for a given condition against expected hospital encounters.
The HEI gives health care organizations a clear, granular description of the nature of disparities communities are facing at their system. It creates an internal standard, allowing leaders to compare their data to population demographics (accounting for geographic variation) rather than comparing to the dominant group in their population, typically white males.
Given the health inequities revealed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the national dialogue around historical and modern-day inequities, all health care organizations have a renewed mandate to address health disparities. The first step in this journey is identifying disparities, and the index can help you do that.
While the possible applications of the index seem endless, its current application relates primarily to addressing conditions that are related to ambulatory care, given the ease of access to data for these conditions. Additionally, this tool does not replace data stratification, which is an important first step in addressing disparities, both at the point of care and those present in the broadly defined population. However, this tool has promising potential to help organizations identify who in their community is most at risk of experiencing disparate outcomes.