Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Policy & Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Sarah Raskin


Literature on the magnitude of negative health outcomes from health disparities is voluminous. Defined as the health effects of racism, environmental injustice, forms of discrimination, biases in science, and sociological or socioeconomic predictors across populations, health disparities are part of an ongoing and complicated national problem that health equity programs are specifically designed to address. Academic Health Science Centers (AHC) institutions are a complex and unique educational-healthcare ecosystem that often serves as a safety net for patients in vulnerable and lower-income communities. These institutions are often viewed as one of the most uniquely positioned entities in the U.S. with an abundance of resources and networks to advance health equity as a high-impact goal and strategic imperative. Relatively little progress, however, has been made to better understand the potentially transformative nature of how digital health technologies (DHT)—such as mobile health apps, electronic health record (EHR) and electronic medical record (EMR) systems, smart ‘wearable’ devices, artificial intelligence, and machine learning—may be optimized to better capture and analyze social determinants of health (SDH) data elements in order to inform strategies to address health disparities. Even less has been explored about the challenging implementation of electronic SDH screening and data capture processes within AHCs and how they are used to better inform decisions for patient and community care. This research examines how AHC institutions, as complex education-healthcare bureaucracies, have prioritized this specific challenge amongst many other competing incentives and agendas in order to ultimately develop better evidence-based strategies to advance health equity. While there are clear moral, ethical, and clinical motives for improving health outcomes for vulnerable populations, when an AHC demonstrates that electronically screening and capturing SDH can improve the ability to understand the “upstream” factors impacting their patients' health outcomes, this can inform and influence policy-level choices in government legislation directed at community-level factors. A qualitative thematic analysis of interview data from AHC administrators and leadership illustrates how AHCs have mobilized their EHR as a featured component of their healthcare delivery system to address health disparities, exposing other related, multifactorial dimensions of the Institution and region. Key findings indicated that: electronic SDH screening and updating workflow processes within an AHC’s clinical enterprise is a significant venture with multiple risks and the potential of failure. Universal adoption and awareness of SDH screening is hampered by notions of hesitancy, skepticism, and doubt as to an AHC’s ability to meaningfully extract and use the data for decision-support systems. Additional investment in resources and incentive structures for capturing SDH are needed for continued monitoring of patient health inequalities and community social factors. Data from this and future replicated studies can be used to inform AHC and government decisions around health and social protection, planning, and policy.


© Wies Rafi

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Date of Submission