Declarations are not enough.  Health care equity needs action, health care leaders say - MedCity News

About 98% of healthcare companies have a healthcare equity strategy, but nearly 60% initiated the strategy in just the last five years, and 34% created it during the Covid-19 pandemic, a new research from EY shows.

“[Health equity] is not a new problem,” said Susan Garfield, EY’s US chief public health director. “But what I think Covid did was create a collective experience and a collective data set to prioritize health equity in a way that people can no longer ignore it. The disparate experiences of minority populations, people of color, people with co-morbidities, in terms of the experience and outcomes of Covid was so striking.”

EY’s inaugural Healthcare Equity Forecast Report was released on Monday and included responses from 500 healthcare equity leaders. These leaders come from providers, payers, public health organizations, life sciences companies, and nonprofit and community organizations.

To address health equity initiatives, 58% of organizations have named a chief health equity officer, while 21% said they have given the responsibilities to another executive leader and 20% said they have created a director for equity in health care.

“It really reinforces that this is not a fringe issue,” Garfield said in an interview. “This is something of central and highest priority.”

When it comes to the most important areas of focus for organizations regarding health equity, 34% of respondents said access and quality of health care, 33% said developing a health equity strategy, and 28% said employee diversity and inclusion . These main areas of focus were largely consistent across the board, regardless of the type of healthcare organization.

However, there are several barriers that organizations face regarding health equity. About 16% of organizations cited a “lack of common understanding or awareness of what equity in health care entails” as a barrier, and another 16% said “lack of financial commitment.” However, there is some potential for companies to work together to address these issues, Garfield said.

“We are now in an incredible learning period,” she said. “In the next year or two, I think we’ll see more knowledge sharing between ecosystem players, more collaborations to drive initiatives and create synergies.”

One area that Garfield pointed to as an opportunity for collaboration in health equity is the data and analytics space. About 85% of organizations have a data and analytics strategy for health equity, and 89% have key performance indicators to help track progress. However, the way data is used varies by type of organization. For example, public health groups are strong in collecting data to identify health care disparities. Meanwhile, life sciences companies are better positioned to use data to inform strategic priorities, leaving room for these organizations to work together.

Garfield also said companies need to educate people in their organizations about health equity. Only 55% of companies provide health equity and disparities training to their employees. Leadership training is slightly more prevalent, at 60%.

“It’s not something you can just say ‘health equity’ and have everyone hear the same meaning and understand the same priorities,” Garfield said. “Education is critical to aligning and advancing the field.”

Photo: PeterPencil, Getty Images

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