Pregnant People - Key Activity 4


Use a Systematic Approach to Decrease Inequities within the Population of Focus


This key activity involves all seven elements of person-centered population-based care: operationalize clinical guidelines; implement condition-specific registries; proactive patient outreach and engagement; pre-visit planning and care gap reduction; care coordination; behavioral health integration; address social needs.



This activity provides guidance for a systematic, evidence-based approach for identifying and then reducing inequities for pregnant people. It focuses on the first primary driver in PHMI’s Equity Approach: Reduce inequities for populations of focus.

Phmi Adultpreventiondriverdiagram

Black women have the highest rates of maternal mortality in the United States – three times higher than white women. These inequities are often a direct result of racism, particularly institutionalized racism, which is the differential access to the goods, services and opportunities of a society by race.[1] Limited access to quality healthcare, provider implicit bias and social determinants of health all also contribute to disparate maternal mortality rates. Improving your practice’s key outcomes for pregnant patients requires a systematic approach to identifying equity gaps (e.g., who your practice is not yet achieving equitable outcomes for) and then using quality improvement (QI), co-design, systems thinking and related methods to reduce these equity gaps.[2]

Inequitable outcomes are generally most acute among persons of color, immigrants, persons speaking a preferred language other than English, and other populations that have been marginalized. As we work to eliminate inequitable health outcomes, we need to understand factors that contribute to these inequities.

Part of this work includes recognizing that race is a social construct determined by society’s perception. Racial health inequities are evidence that the social categories of race and ethnicity have biological consequences due to the impact of racism and social inequality on people’s health[3]. It is also critical to recognize that we have policies, systems and procedures that unintentionally cause inequitable outcomes for racial, ethnic, language and other minorities, in spite of our genuine intentions to provide equitable care and produce equitable health outcomes.

Accessing accurate data to identify and monitor inequities is fundamental to the key actions outlined below.
See Appendix D: Guidance on Technological Interventions.

EHRs can capture basic REAL, socioeconomic, SOGI and social needs-related data but may, in some cases, lack granularity or nuances that may be important to identifying key subpopulations. Mismatches between how the Uniform Data System (UDS) captures REAL data versus how EHRs capture or MCPs report data can also create challenges. This may require using workarounds or modifying your EHR to capture these details. You will also have to align other data systems or applications that are collecting demographic information in alignment with your needs. Furthermore, tracking inequities in accessing services not provided by the health center may also require attention data sources or applications outside the EHR.

Health centers should also be alert to the potential for technology as a contributor to inequities. For example, patient access to telehealth services from your practice may be limited by the inequitable distribution of broadband networks and patient financial resources (e.g., I phones, tablets and cellular data plans). EHR-embedded algorithms used to stratify populations by risk may also contain inherent racial biases. The Techquity framework can be a useful way to structure an approach to assure that technology promotes rather than exacerbates disparity.

Language, literacy levels, technology access and technology literacy should also be considered and assessed against the populations served at the health center.

Finally, attention needs to be paid to the use of best practices in collecting the data, accurate categories in the technologies in which it is collected and stored, and adequate training and monitoring of staff responsible in order to assure reports and analysis have a valid basis.

Relevant HIT capabilities to support this activity include: care guidelines, registries, clinical decision support (modifications required to consider disparate groups), care dashboards and reports, quality reports, outreach and engagement, and care management and care coordination.

See Appendix D: Guidance on Technological Interventions.

Action steps and roles

1. Build the data infrastructure needed to accurately collect REAL, SOGI, social needs and other demographic data.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Data analyst.

  • Race, ethnicity and language (REAL).
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

The PHMI Data Quality and Reporting Guide provides guidance and several resources for collecting this information. According to this guide, the initial step in addressing disparities is to collect high-quality data that fosters a holistic view of patient characteristics and needs. This entails incorporating REAL data, demographic data (age, SOGI, geography) and social needs data. By collecting and monitoring this information, healthcare practices can gain valuable insights into disparities in access, continuity and health outcomes. Steps two to four below provide more information on this process.

Collecting REAL information allows for practices to identify and measure disparities in care while also ensuring that practices are able to interact successfully with patients. This is done by understanding patients’ unique culture and language preferences.[4] KHA Quality has a toolbox that assists with REAL data collection.

The Uniform Data System (UDS) Health Center Data Reporting Requirements (2023 Manual) provides detailed guidance on REAL and SOGI. While UDS does not currently require that practices report on the preferred language of each patient, practices should make an effort to identify and record each patient’s preferred language due to UDS reporting still requiring for languages other than English to be reported.

Accurate data collection requires appropriate fields and options in the EHR and other employed technologies, as well as appropriate human workflows in collecting the data. Staff responsible for data collection should be continuously trained and assessed for best practices in data collection, including promotion of patient self-report.

In addition, practices should work to ensure that patients understand the importance and use of this information to help them feel comfortable and support its collection. High rates of “undetermined” or “declined” responses in these fields may be indicative of the need to attend to these staff training needs.

Collecting this data is important, especially to obtain a complete picture of health for patients who identify as transgender or gender-expansive. Perinatal services are typically highly gendered and by understanding the needs of patients more fully, Providers can make more informed decisions for the best treatment of their patients. World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has provided further guidance regarding standards of care related to gender diversity.

2. Use the practice’s electronic health record (EHR) and/or population health management tool to understand inequitable health outcomes at your practice by stratifying your data.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Data analyst.

This includes reviewing your care gap report or care registry and being able to stratify all of the following:

  • Core measures for the population of focus.
  • Supplemental measures for the population of focus.
  • Process measures for the population of focus.

Stratify this data by:

  • Race, ethnicity and language (REAL).
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).
  • Other factors that can help identify subpopulations in need of focused intervention to reduce an equity gap (e.g., immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, etc.).



Fig 9 Pp

This is not a one-time event, but rather a continuous process (see step 13 below) and should be done in tandem with step three below.

Each practice should define the frequency of review and use of their registry to stratify data. In early use, the stratified data will support the identification of areas of inequity and allow interventions to be prioritized.

See also Key Activity 3: Use Care Gap Reports or Registries to Identify All Patients Eligible and Due for Care

3. Screen patients for social needs.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team.

The Key Activity 7: Use Social Needs Screening to Inform Patient Treatment Plans provides guidance on screening patients for health-related social needs and how the information can begin to be used to inform patient treatment plans, including referral to community-based services.

This is not a one-time event, but rather a continuous process and should be done in tandem with step two above.

4. Analyze the stratified data from steps two and three to identify patterns in inequitable outcomes within the population of focus.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Data analyst, QI leads, care team.

This includes:

  • Using data tools to visualize and understand disparities across different populations or subpopulations.
  • Exploring trends, patterns and significant differences to understand which demographic groups will require a focused effort to close equity gaps.

This is not a one-time event, but rather a continuous process (see step 13 below) and should be done in tandem with step two (above) and step four (below).

Periodic review of the stratified data allows for the recognition of gap closures and the emergence of new disparities.

5. Use a root cause analysis to identify improvement approaches for subpopulations with lagging health outcomes.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Multidisciplinary team.
Select root cause analysis approaches that work best for the equity gap you are closing:

  • Engage and gather information from patients affected by the health outcome in your root cause analysis (see step six).
  • Brainstorming.
  • Systems thinking (understanding how interconnected social, economic, cultural and healthcare access factors may be impacting the health outcome).
  • Tools that rank root causes by their impact and the feasibility of addressing them (e.g., prioritization matrix and/or an impact effort matrix)
  • Visual mapping of root causes and effects (e.g., fishbone diagram).
  • Perform focused investigations into selected root causes and gather qualitative data through interviews, surveys or focus groups with the subpopulation of focus.

Present the findings to a broader group of stakeholders to validate the identified root causes and gain additional insights. Incorporate their feedback and refine the analysis, as needed.

6. Partner with patients to build successful strategies addressing inequitable outcomes.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team and people with lived experience (patients who are members of the population(s) of focus).

Using one or more human-centered design methods, such as focus groups, Journey Mapping, etc. (see links to these methods below), engage patients to better understand perspectives that may influence the health outcome of interest. This may include collecting information on:

  • Values, needs and preferences.
  • Experiences with outpatient prenatal care, intrapartum care at partnering hospital(s), and both inpatient and outpatient postpartum care.
  • Cultural beliefs, including traditional healing practices.
  • Level of trust in healthcare generally and in the topic of focus specifically (e.g., access to prenatal care visits, experience of perinatal depression screening, etc.).
  • Barriers to accessing care.
  • Barriers to remaining engaged in care.
  • Trusted sources of information or communication mechanisms.
  • Their ideas for improving health outcomes.

The patients you partner with for this and other steps in this key activity may be part of a formal or informal patient group and/or identified and engaged specifically for this equity work. Fairly compensating patients for participating in improvement activities is a best practice.

Selected resources on human-centered design and co-design:


7. Identify key activities in this guide that address or partially address the root causes of the identified equity gaps.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team and people with lived experiences.

Based upon the insights your practice has developed for a population of focus and your root cause analysis, determine which of the key activities could address or partially address the equity gap.

Most of the key activities either explicitly address an equity challenge or can be adapted to better address an equity challenge. Examples of key activities that can be adapted to reduce identified equity gaps include but are not limited to:


8. Develop new strategies and ideas to address the identified equity gaps.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team and people with lived experience.

If one or more of your root causes cannot be addressed fully through key activities, use one or more human-centered design methods (see resources below), to develop ideas to improve health outcomes and reduce inequities among pregnant people.

Developing these ideas is best done with representatives of the population of focus, as they have expertise and experience that may be missing from the practice’s care team. Compensating these patients and community members for time spent on improvement activities is a best practice. During this brainstorm, you are developing ideas without immediate judgment of the ideas in an effort to generate dozens of potentially viable ideas.

9. Determine which strategies to test first.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team and people with lived experience.

Steps seven and eight above help your practice identify existing key activities and generate new ideas.

There are many ways to prioritize ideas. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) often recommends a prioritization matrix and/or an impact effort matrix.

If you have organized your key activities and new ideas into themes or categories, you may choose to work on one category or select one to two ideas per category to work on.

The number of key activities and/or new ideas that you prioritize for testing first should be based on the team’s bandwidth to engage in testing. Thus, it is critical to determine the bandwidth for the team(s) who will be doing the testing so thou can determine how many ideas to test first.

10. Use quality improvement (QI) methods to begin testing your prioritized key activities and new ideas.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team and people with lived experience.

Nearly all of the key activities and all of your new ideas will require some degree of adaptation for use within your practice and to be culturally relevant and appropriate to your population(s) of focus.

Whenever testing a key activity or new idea, we recommend that the practice:

  • Use plan, do, study, act (PDSA) cycles to test your ideas and bring them to scale. See more information on PDSAs below in the tips and resources section.
  • Generally, start with small-scale tests (e.g., test with one patient, for one afternoon, in a mailing to 10 patients, etc.). Use Figure 10 below in the tips and resources section to help you decide what size test is most appropriate. Increase the size of the test as your degree of confidence in the intervention grows.

Develop or refine your learning and measurement system for the ideas you are testing. A simple, yet robust learning and measurement system will help you understand areas for improvement, unintended secondary effects, and how implementation is going.

By working out the inevitable challenges in the idea you are testing in a small-scale PDSA cycle, the ultimate improvement activity will work better for patients and be less frustrating to the care team. Testing and refining also can eliminate the inefficient workarounds that occur when a new process is imposed onto an existing system or workflow without sufficient testing.

Select resources for quality improvement (QI):


11. Educate staff and providers on importance of addressing inequities.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: QI team; care team; patients; diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) workgroup.

In addition to sharing information from research and data on social inequities, educate staff and clinicians on the existence of social inequities within your organization. Highlight activities that specifically focus on these disparities. Incorporate lessons learned from patients and partner organizations.

Prior to full scale implementation, education can help to ensure buy in from staff and clinicians.

12. Implement – bring to full scale and sustain – those practices that have proven effective.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team

Once an idea has been well tested and shown to be effective on a small scale, it is time for your practice to hardwire the idea, approach or practice into your daily work. Consider using the MOCHA Implementation Planning Worksheet to think through:

  • Measurement.
  • Ownership.
  • Communication, including training.
  • Hardwiring the practice.
  • Assessment of workload.

Sometimes, implementation may require that you update your protocol and/or policies and procedures for the populations of focus.

13. Once you have tested, refined and scaled up the initially prioritized ideas, begin testing other ideas.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team and people with lived experience.

Consider revisiting the ideas that were developed previously but not were not initially prioritized for implementation. You might also move through the testing steps above to develop and prioritize new ideas or adapt ideas to better serve additional subpopulations of focus.

14. Establish formal and informal feedback loops with patients and the care team.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team and people with lived experience.

Establishing formal and informal feedback loops regarding new processes will ensure that your practice’s ideas are meeting the needs of patients and are reducing identified equity gaps. These feedback loops also ensure the changes are feasible and sustainable for your practice.

For patients, feedback loops could be created using many of the human-centered design tools used to design your improvement activity (e.g., surveys, interviews, focus groups).
Consider establishing a standing funded patient advisory board that is available to design, implement and evaluate all of your practice’s improvement activities.

For the care team, feedback loops might include:

  • Existing and new staff satisfaction and feedback mechanisms.
  • Regularly scheduled meetings and calls to get staff feedback on processes, methods and tools. Leverage existing meetings to mitigate staff burnout.


15. Continually analyze your data to determine if your efforts are closing equity gaps.

Suggested team member(s) responsible: Care team.

This includes regular (at least monthly) review of the stratified measures for all of the following:

  • Core measures for the population of focus.
  • Supplemental measures for the population of focus.
  • Process measures for the population of focus.
  • Social needs data.
  • Any additional measures collected as part of your testing and refinement effort.

Share the data with patients to both show your work to decrease known equity gaps and to solicit ideas for closing them.

Implementation tips

When testing a change idea (either a key activity or new idea) for your practice to address a known equity gap, the size of your test is critical. We recommend starting with a very small test (e.g., with one patient or with one clinician) or a small test (e.g., with all patients seen during a three-hour period by this clinician) unless you are certain the change idea will lead to improvement. The cost of a failed small test is extremely low and staff will often be excited to test the change idea. As you learn what is or isn’t working from each test, you can conduct larger scale tests and tests under a variety of conditions. While at first glance this would appear to slow down the implementation effort, starting small and working out the challenges as you progressively work to full scale actually saves time and resources and is much less frustrating for your patients and care team. The visualization below provides guidance on how big your test should be.



  1. Improving Health Equity: Build Infrastructure to Support Health Equity. Guidance for Health Care Organizations. Boston, Massachusetts: Institute for Healthcare Improvement; 2019. (Available at  
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Working together to reduce black maternal mortality [Internet]. 2023. Available from: 
  3. Chadha N, Lim B, Kane M, Rowland B. Institute for Healing and Justice in Medicine; 2020. 
  4. REaL Data Collection Toolbox [Internet]. KHA; 2022 [cited 2023 Dec 18]. Available from:[4]/Resources/HQIC_REaL%20Data_Collection_Toolbox.pdf