These past few weeks, like most people across the globe, I have been reflecting upon the recent and not-so recent events. The topic of race has rightfully been brought to the forefront and, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become painstakingly apparent how far we still have to go as a nation, and as individuals, to break down barriers and do more for people of color.
The disproportionate treatment of people of color and the systemic issues within our healthcare system call for a commitment to listening to and proactively connecting with all populations, especially those that have historically been underserved.
Taking Stock of Our Processes
The questions to ask now should be:
- How are you engaging and supporting the health of your entire community?
- Are you supporting your most underserved populations by communicating with them in their primary language?
- Do you encourage preventive screenings, and if so, has this been effective in reducing or minimizing the impact of preventable diseases?
- Do you find meaningful ways of engaging with your total population via more accessible communication channels such as text and phone calls?
And this is just the beginning.
I recently wrote about the importance of digital communication to the success of a healthcare provider or organization in the age of COVID-19. The success of providers is especially critical to community empowerment and improving overall health.
It’s been shown that chronic conditions and comorbidities are more prominent for people of color. A 2019 study found that middle-aged black adults start at a higher level of chronic disease burden and, on average, develop multimorbidity at an earlier age compared to white and hispanic adults. Additionally, black women are two and a half times more likely to die from causes related to pregnancy, or childbirth, compared to white women in the United States.
The disease burden and health inequalities by race have become more evident during the rise of COVID-19, but the issue began long before that.
The Socioeconomic Realities of Poor Health
Poor health tends to lead to higher healthcare bills, more healthcare complications, and could be an impediment to community success. Better health outcomes can have a massive impact on individuals, their families, and their entire community. By reducing the health burden for underserved populations, both individual and community resources can be utilized for other initiatives.
Consider a recent study of insurance records which found that some “doctors may be less likely to refer African Americans for testing when they show up for care with signs of infection.” Responsibility starts with action and action starts with awareness.
There are two paths forward — prevention and management. Prevention means finding and addressing health issues before they start, or at the very least, become worse. Management means providers have a duty to help reduce the negative impacts for patients that already have one or multiple chronic, yet manageable conditions. Both of these paths start with looking at where there are gaps in how you serve your communities and understanding why they exist. For example, have you looked at your community engagement programs and identified which individuals are being prioritized for care and subsequently are the most engaged?
Additionally, leaders should evaluate their care transition process through a human-centered lens and evaluate how they are supporting transitions of care, the ongoing monitoring of conditions, and how staff members identify and address social determinants of health.
Finding A Path Forward
It’s likely that by asking the right questions and taking a good, hard look at existing processes first hand, you will uncover areas where your organization can do more for the entire community. The investments made in the prevention and management of chronic diseases will pay dividends in the long-term success of all your communities.
As a company, we are reflecting on ways in which we can do more and one way is by proactively seeking feedback from within our organization. We are encouraged by early conversations to find paths toward greater diversity, support open dialogue, and provide assistance to organizations that support greater healthcare equality. I hope others do the same and seek out ways to provide greater and more meaningful access to care by breaking down the barriers that have existed for far too long.
I will close with these words from Dr. Omar B. Lateef, Chief Executive Officer, Rush University Medical Center:
“History will reflect back on what this industry could have done differently to better manage this disease. I am hoping we can use this pandemic’s effect on healthcare in America as the push to make the changes that allow us to care for more people at a lower cost.”
A path forward, indeed.