The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted an ongoing issue in healthcare – health inequity. The differences in health outcomes between racial and ethnic groups can’t be denied, but health plans can take purposeful actions to alleviate health inequities among their member populations. Health plans and providers cannot resolve this issue alone. Achieving health equity requires the participation of individuals, communities, businesses, government, social service agencies, and more.
With that in mind, what can healthcare industry professionals do now to lead and encourage improvement? J. Nwando Olayiwola, Chief of Health Equity for Humana, recommends the following five strategies for health equity leadership:
- Prevention and wellness
- Community engagement
- Professional development
- Prioritizing action and accountability
Prevention and Wellness
Disparities occur when a disproportionate share of preventable health conditions impact a particular patient population. For example, African American populations are disproportionately impacted by cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease and other diseases. We can reduce or avoid the progression of these chronic conditions by focusing on prevention and wellness.
“Under traditional fee-for-service payment models, health providers are rewarded by the amount of services they provide, and there are no built-in incentives to provide preventative care; access to and removing barriers for necessary preventative services and wellness programs should be a priority for every health plan.”
– J. Nwando Olayiwola, Chief of Health Equity for Humana
Payers and providers can choose where to invest support through their foundations and community investment projects. Healthcare organizations can aid efforts to end housing instability, provide broader educational opportunities, reduce joblessness, combat food insecurity, and eliminate other social vulnerabilities to promote health equity.
If a health plan or hospital organization wants to lead the way toward health equity, it should make investments to empower the communities they serve. Our recent white paper further highlights recommendations from the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) Office of Health Policy for community engagement.
There are pros and cons when it comes to innovation and health equity.
Take telehealth for example. Accelerated by COVID-19, this innovation made it easier to increase awareness about virtual health visits and provide patients with increased access to healthcare, but not everyone has access to the technology needed to use telehealth services. Not to mention, many are not technologically savvy enough to navigate telehealth, even if they can afford to. Healthcare organizations must be mindful of the need to decrease the challenges that can prevent various populations from receiving virtual care.
Inovalon believes the following components are essential to ensure that all populations have access to virtual healthcare:
- Flexible telehealth workflow
- Inclusive patient intake process
- Dedicated telehealth technology support
- On-demand access to devices
- Low-literacy and language support
- Culturally competent telehealth teams
- Ongoing coaching and guidance training for practitioners
Health equity training is another tool healthcare organizations can use to help healthcare professionals develop and implement strategies that lead to more equitable healthcare.
Beyond staff training, health plans and hospitals are collaborating with universities and community groups to develop programs that contribute to health equity. These types of programs can provide education and information to help healthcare professionals and community leaders better understand barriers to healthcare and what they can do about it.
Prioritizing Action and Accountability
Finally, health plans must not only pay attention to clinical performance and outcomes data but should also review utilization, sociodemographic, and community-level data to capture health disparity trends.
Inovalon helps payers and providers identify health populations at risk for disparities and provides guidance on how they can develop action plans to address these disparities. We’re leveraging data to understand and measure gaps, drive actions, and create an infrastructure for accountability and continuous improvement.
While no single stakeholder can achieve health equity, there is so much healthcare organizations can do to encourage improvement. The five recommended strategies discussed are a great place to start.
Inovalon is a company dedicated to reducing health disparities and achieving health equity for all. Contact us to learn more about how Inovalon helps organizations achieve high-quality population health management.