While “demographics” is typically associated with the marketing industry, collecting patient demographics matters significantly in healthcare. Collecting a patient’s personal information helps our clinic’s patients and their providers. As a CEO in healthcare, I have put together a list explaining what is the purpose of patient demographics.
What Is Considered Demographic Data?
Demographics refers to statistical data relating to the population and particular groups. Demographic data consists of personal information including, but not limited to:
- Date of birth
- Medical history
- Physical address/location
- Insurance provider
Healthcare providers can create a more thorough, customized plan to serve an area better with this demographic data. In the broadest terms, only date of birth, gender, ethnicity, and location are all that is needed to create a profile. Still, the additional information is what truly helps our healthcare providers improve patient care.
How Demographic Collection Can Improve Patient Care
Patient demographics helps clinics better understand the areas they serve, and thus, provide our communities with better treatments. For instance, certain groups of people are more susceptible to different conditions: While ACE inhibitors are a popular hypertension treatment, they have been proven to be less effective among African Americans.
Healthcare professionals now know to consider utilizing other treatments for African American patients afflicted by hypertension, thanks to this information. This is just one example of how useful patient demographic information can be.
Specific areas can also benefit from this sharing of information as well. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has a database of designated Medically Underserved Areas/Populations (MUA/P). This database contains a list of areas and populations that have at least one of the following:
- Too few primary care providers
- High infant mortality
- High poverty rates
- High elderly populations
While typically applicable to more isolated/rural populations, the HRSA’s database contains quite a few MUAs within Harris county. As of 2019, Gulfton is not officially designated as an MUA. However, I have seen firsthand the lack of support and resources put into the community. Thanks to available demographic data tracking communities like Gulfton, the physicians at Hillcroft Physicians P.A. have been able to properly plan out how to address healthcare disparities.
While on the topic of communities, cultural competency also relies on demographic data. Different cultures have different experiences and expectations when it comes to medical attention and, in a city as diverse as Houston, knowing this can help us provide patients with the proper medical help.
Another way demographics matter is billing and, really, patient communications in general. Healthcare administrators can quickly know who/where to send medical bills by noting insurance information and avoiding unnecessary hassles.
On a similar note, this is also how offices can follow up with patients. Confirming/rescheduling appointments turns into an unproductive endeavor without some form of contact such as an email address or phone number.
How To Handle the Demographic Collection Process
While healthcare entrepreneurs like you and I understand what is the purpose of patient demographics, the patient may not. This could result in them being unwilling to share such personal information with our physicians.
As I mentioned above, different communities have varying expectations and experiences regarding healthcare, which occasionally can mean they are hesitant to disclose personal information like medical history, address, insurance provider, etc. This is once again where cultural competency comes into play.
To respond to this, make sure your patients know why their providers need this information and reassure them that their data is safe with the clinic. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides clinics with proper guidelines for handling and storing sensitive information. Not only are providers legally obligated to collect certain information, but they must keep it secured as well. All medical practices should already be HIPAA compliant, so this is simply a matter of informing the patient of this.
Also, carefully consider your staff’s approach to asking patients for this information. Being transparent can help build trust, which leads to better treatment, but it is not always guaranteed to be successful.
Sometimes patients will still have their reservations about publicly disclosing certain personal information. Younger generations who have grown up with technology may be more willing to enter this information in a web portal, although the same likely is not true for older patients. We must teach our doctors, as physicians, that all they can (and should) do is maintain transparency and build up trust with our communities to improve them.
Why Patient Demographics Matter
Hopefully, by now, your patients and physicians will understand what is the purpose of patient demographics. Our clinics and practitioners need them to know how to best help the communities in which they operate. Without demographic data, healthcare administrators would not be able to identify trends among different population groups, which means our physicians may not have the resources to properly treat them.
Patient demographics have allowed the physicians at Hillcroft Physicians P.A. to set up any additional services that may have been needed but were previously unknown/unavailable. Sometimes our patients may be hesitant to share such sensitive information, so the clinic must be diligent in addressing their concerns properly and letting them know why exactly we need it: transparency and honesty are key.
For years, as a CEO in healthcare, I empowered my physicians to use their own personal experience with demographic data to build a trusting relationship with the residents of Gulfton and provide the historically underserved area with the attention it deserves, and I plan to continue to do so for years to come as a leader in my local community.