The U.S. grows more diverse every year. By 2050, people of color are expected to comprise over half of the country’s total population. On top of that, we’re aging. We’ve witnessed a significant decline in people under the age of 25 from 2010 to 2019. But even with this rapidly changing census, healthcare is far from equitable.
And as this sector confronts mounting challenges in employee and patient engagement, the stakes for course-correcting to include everyone at the table have never been higher.
What is health equity and why is it important?
Simply put, health equity describes when everyone has fair and equal opportunities to be healthy — regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, income, or other identity factors. Delivering care in an equitable way is an ongoing process, and requires organizations to put systemic changes in place to level the playing field for patients and workers alike.
That being said, supporting health equity is more than just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to invest in. A study by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation found that disparities in health cost the U.S. economy $93 billion in excess medical costs and $42 billion in untapped productivity every year. At the hospital level, employees who don’t feel their organizations value people from different backgrounds are ~4 times less likely to stay on the job.
Even with a renewed focus on equity in the past few years, healthcare has a long way to go. Maternal mortality rates are over three times higher for Black mothers than white mothers. And where you live can make an impact, too. Rural communities have higher rates of preventable diseases when compared with urban areas.
Patterns like these have resulted from decades of disparities — caused by factors such as racism, barriers to care access, and socio-economic gaps — and there’s no question healthcare organizations need to address them to improve outcomes for everyone and build a more sustainable system.
How can leaders support the healthcare workforce to promote health equity?
Putting the right strategies in place to balance the scales begins at the top. As a healthcare leader, you can leverage digital health platforms to help extend your care teams to support more patients, streamline patient access to care, and empower your clinicians to prioritize the most at-risk populations without adding more work to their plates.
Intelligent care enablement — scalable technology that uses AI to support patients and providers through complex care journeys — is specifically well-positioned to support health equity across care delivery. Innovations under this umbrella can help your organization:
- Support your providers to deliver care to people who need it the most. You can’t expect your care teams to perform at the top of their license when they’re continuously burdened with administrative tasks and routine follow-up. Integrate a digital health platform like Memora Health that your clinicians can easily adopt to help them cut through the noise. By providing your healthcare workforce with tools that automate routine tasks — instead of creating more of them — your teams can better assess who needs care the most and how to get them what they need, when they need it.
- Think about how your organization provides care beyond hospital walls. Let’s say you’ve discovered your providers are making inroads in providing equitable care in the emergency room. But, at the same time, you find that your ER is experiencing higher-than-usual readmissions. It might be time to consider how your care teams help patients heal at home. Consider adopting automated solutions that intelligently and proactively communicate with and educate patients for your healthcare workforce so that your standard of care extends beyond your facility.
- Make health equity a priority across your organization’s service lines. Addressing care disparities requires a holistic approach. If your organization finds declining patient satisfaction among particular demographics in oncology versus maternity care, you’ll want to pinpoint what best practices that department implements to ensure everyone receives high-quality care. A modular, flexible digital health platform that is customizable to specific care programs can help your teams hone in on gaps without added administrative tasks.
- Focus on the root causes of health disparities — not just addressing them in the short term. When it comes to providing equitable care, identifying the problem is the first step. But it’s equally important to address the underlying causes of the problem when coming up with solutions to fix it. For instance, if you launch a portal to help your patients manage their care journeys but most of the communities in your area lack broadband access, you might not see a clear improvement in outcomes. A text-based solution is a better way to reach anyone with a cellphone, as they don’t need the internet to navigate care.
Closing the loop to provide high-quality care for all isn’t easy and won’t be achieved overnight. It’s a continuous pursuit, and the fabric of our healthcare system depends on it. Healthier communities are safer communities. Fewer sick people means more productivity across the board. And a health system that understands and addresses the needs of its surrounding communities is a more sustainable one.