medical staff showing patient info on tablet

Harnessing REaL Data to Conquer COVID - 19

By Elisa Arespacochaga

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic circled the globe and swept through the nation, health care inequities were evident in many diverse and vulnerable American communities.

From a statistical standpoint, the coronavirus has greatly magnified the disproportionate number of cases and deaths we have seen in African American, Latinx and Native American populations. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that: 

  • Non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native persons have a hospitalization rate approximately five times that of non-Hispanic white persons.
  • Non-Hispanic Black persons have a hospitalization rate approximately five times that of non-Hispanic white persons. 
  • Hispanic or Latinx persons have a hospitalization rate approximately four times that of non-Hispanic white persons. 

As hospitals begin transitioning back to pre-pandemic operations, careful considerations need to address deepening chasms of health care inequities. 

Having a greater understanding of social factors affecting populations enables health care providers to address specific patient needs for closing disparity gaps in health care. A critical first step for hospitals and health systems is partnering with their communities and collecting patient preference data. By focusing on race, ethnicity and language (REaL) data, hospitals and health systems have the ability to recognize disparities at a faster pace, which may encourage more targeted population health initiatives and community health programs.

The American Hospital Association’s Institute for Diversity and Health Equity has developed new REaL data resources and tools to help health care providers address health care disparities in the fight against COVID-19 and beyond. They include:

  • REaL data guidance brief with explanations, resource links, answers to frequently asked questions and case study examples of how hospitals are using REaL data to their advantage.
  • New IFDHE podcast featuring health system chief diversity officers from Anmed Health and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Health System. These leaders outline their hospital’s efforts to better understand the patients they are serving through REaL data collection, stratification and utilization.

For more COVID-19 resources, please visit

Elisa Arespacochaga is vice president of the AHA Physician Alliance and interim executive lead of AHA's Institute for Diversity and Health Equity.