Advancing health equity is an ecosystem imperative – here’s how your organization can help

Addressing the social determinants of health and stepping up efforts to reduce health disparities is the number one priority supplier strategic planners. as we have explored in a previous post, there are two paths forward for the future of health equity. Healthcare leaders are at a crossroads. And the decisions made by each organization will set the course for health equity. There are two possible futures:

  1. industry continues to designate health equity only as a mission imperativemaintaining the current course.
  2. industry reinforces health equity as a transformative business imperative, in addition to a mission mandate. This directly links health equity performance to an organization’s bottom line.

Whichever path is right for your organization, every healthcare organization can still make a meaningful difference in advancing equity. What each organization does depends on its position in the industry.

Life Science Manufacturers

Recruit and retain a diverse team to build and design products

According to national science foundation, only 11% of scientists and engineers were black or Hispanic in 2015 despite representing 31% of the population. In order to create inclusive products that work across a wide range of attributes, including race, it’s necessary to have a diverse team of people designing and building them. Life science manufacturers can recruit and retain a diverse team by:

  • Engage people of color and women who are already on your team to ensure they feel comfortable and included in your workspace.
  • Source diverse candidates by attending career fairs and networking events for communities of color.
  • Be patient and proactive, keep trying different strategies to recruit diverse candidates, and build on what works.

Forming partnerships to foster diversity in clinical trials

Diverse participation in clinical trials is needed to learn more about the safety and effectiveness of medical products in diverse populations. Increasing the diversity of clinical trials requires a multi-stakeholder approach to align incentives with the needs of specific populations and reduce barriers to improve participation. Life science organizations should employ strategies such as:

  • Partner with community organizations to engage communities your organization may not otherwise have access to and identify barriers to recruitment.
  • Build trust with patients by investing in community clinical trial sites.
  • Integrate technology to facilitate the design of hybrid and decentralized clinical trials to access more diverse patients.
  • Offer incentives that match the populations you want to recruit.

Leverage real-world evidence (RWE) to identify disparities

Technological advances allow us to collect more robust patient data. Think proactively about data use beyond claims and clinical data and focus more on the social determinants of health data. Life science manufacturers can use RWE to amplify social determinants of health data and help guide better treatment options for marginalized populations.

Hospitals and health systems

Use the status of anchor institutions to address unmet economic needs in your communities

Hospital responsibilities have expanded to include the environmental and social impact of their work, such as providing non-clinical services in local communities. All organizations can implement “anchor institution“Strategies such as:

  • Hire people from your locality, making sure to be truly inclusive in your recruitment process.
  • Buy products from local vendors when you can.
  • Donate services or supplies to meet demand in the most vulnerable communities.
  • Invest in educational campaigns that improve the health and well-being of local people.

Serve with Cultural Humility

In the past, many organizations have used the cultural competency model to strengthen health equity efforts. But this model often does more harm by perpetuating stereotypes about specific identity groups.

Rather, organizations should strive to cultural humility. The cultural humility model encourages humility of both the institution and the individual. They listen and learn from people’s lived experiences.

Shift to value-based care

Health plans and at-risk provider organizations already understand that mitigating disparate outcomes will reduce the total cost of care. But with CMS hinting at mandatory value-based payment models in the future, all provider organizations should plan to develop key capabilities that will allow them to succeed in downward risk models, such as modifying payment flows work to screen for social needs or segmentation of patients according to level of risk.

Commitment to values-based care includes actions such as:

  • Break down silos and collaborate with industry stakeholders.
  • Refocus conversations on key quality improvement and cost reduction goals to move faster.
  • Change their organization’s culture to elevate accompanying priorities such as strategy-aligned compensation and community health.

Health plans

Establish and implement health equity standards and measures

In order to create an immediate and sustained business case for equity, the plans add a financial incentive. Provider organizations are now held accountable for providing equitable care by building equity into quality metrics.

Just as vendors already receive payment increases for meeting certain quality metrics and penalties for non-compliance, vendors in these new contracts will now also be liable for any discrepancies between demographic groups.

Ensuring fair outcomes for patients

Although health plans do not interact with patients in a clinical setting, they can still help improve equitable patient outcomes. This can be done by providing coverage for social care as part of benefits and segmenting initiatives to focus on underserved populations.

Identify elements of service design that contribute to disparate outcomes and access

Pharmaceutical deserts, neighborhoods with few or no pharmacies, limit patients’ pharmaceutical options. This leads to patients receiving drugs from non-preferred pharmacies, often paying more out of pocket. By working closely with Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), payers can eliminate or reduce co-payments for treatments proven to deliver patient-centered outcomes and improve care.

Digital health

Use AI to recognize and address bias

In recent years, AI in healthcare has come under a well-deserved scrutiny of the potential negative consequences of biased algorithms. But bias in AI depends on model design, data inputs, and use case. When researchers and developers operate with the knowledge that structural inequalities and racial stereotypes impart bias to many actions and datasets used in medicine today, they can create AI tools that help mitigate that bias at instead of exacerbating it.

Every sector has a responsibility to take action to advance health equity. No matter where you are in the industry, you can advance equity goals by ensuring you bring as much strategic rigor to health equity as any other initiative. Allocate sufficient resources to equity efforts, while embedding equity into all parts of the organization. Advocate for policies that mitigate existing disparities and create new solutions to support equity. No individual or organization can meet this challenge alone. Partnerships, transparency and communication are necessary to advance equity.

Aubrey L. Morgan