Monday, Feb 13, 2023

Health Equity Paves New Pathways for Integration

Kevin LarsenSenior Vice President Clinical Innovation, Optum


Discover key connections to your mission and community

Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion across every community is an urgent and imperative goal for many organizations. It’s essential to connect advocacy groups to health organizations, health employees to the mission of health, and consumers to services that have historically been out of reach. 

To shape a more equitable health picture, leaders can collaborate with community groups to improve data collection, pinpoint local needs and take action. They can also project the impact that social determinants of health and bias within the community have on their organization.

Pairing with community-based organizations 

Health organizations are thinking about health equity in new ways. They’re working with community partners to share data, build whole health consumer profiles, create value-based care avenues that address inequities, and assess performance metrics.

Leaders should identify local community groups that are strong potential partners. By building trusted relationships with these entities, health leaders can assist them with the support they need to implement solutions and scale.

To that end, the community may already have developed possible solutions that haven’t yet been explored at a broader level. Together, health and community-based organizations can work together to finally empower the scaling of community-originated ideas. 

There are many ways to approach cementing these community-based partnerships. Health organizations can financially support nonprofits. Health leaders can also serve on their boards. Additionally, they can invest in programs that serve the community needs around food, transportation, housing and other basic life needs. It can be more cost-effective for health organizations to support community work that is already serving their members through a whole-system approach. Health foundations and Medicaid health plans are also channels to fulfill members’ holistic health needs. Half the battle lies in some of the basics.

Using technology to address social determinants of health

Technology is an indisputable asset in supporting a patient’s health journey. It empowers a person to have more information at their fingertips, allowing them to better take charge of and manage their condition around their life, rather than their life around their condition.

Technology also adds value to the greater health care ecosystem by combining important contextual information from an electronic health record — such as a patient’s health history, medications, allergies and social determinants of health — with a computerized version of best practice clinical guidelines. As a result, a more complete health picture allows providers to offer a more personalized recommendation, and that can lead to a more equitable outcome.

Technology supports value-based care management through remote monitoring, patient mobile apps, artificial intelligence, automated scheduling and more. These tools also help overcome transportation- and cost-related challenges to improve access to the physical and behavioral health services people need. 

Digital therapeutics further personalize the health experience by pulling together a person’s background, preferences and mental health symptoms and then matching them to an app that would fit them best. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that technology will not solve health equity on its own. For instance, access to technology itself is a social determinant of health. Those living in rural areas may not have internet or mobile service coverage that is powerful enough to enable a person to use electronic technologies for digital health. They may also lack the funds to afford these services. 

Charting health equity with outcomes in mind 

To identify people who are affected most by health disparities, organizations can construct a data-driven map of communities at risk. Connecting data points also provides insight into the ways social determinants, health literacy, bias and other inequities affect health outcomes.

For example, a person experiencing homelessness may be driving high health care utilization rates, yet the data point that they are unhoused may not be recorded anywhere in the patient’s records. If information from multiple sectors connects these facts, then the community, public health system, homeless shelters and health organizations may be able to combine forces to assist the person in securing housing. The same structure applies to other SDOH, such as food and transportation. Health care is a major part of a community and of an ecosystem, yet there are other vital factors at play too. In fact, medical care contributes to just 20% of a person’s health outcomes, while where one lives, works and ages can have more impact on their health than any other factor.

Ensuring products and services serve consumer needs

Racial, ethnic and language diversity often isn’t reflected in products and service offerings. There’s no clearer business case for growth than increasing the access of products and services. Improving and simplifying readability for people with low literacy is one example of supporting an approach of diversity and inclusion.

Other aspects to consider are whether your products and services can be delivered in rural areas, what your consumers’ needs are for communicating, whether a population’s primary language is English, whether products meet their needs, and if your customers understand how to use them. Serving every person, everywhere, through technology is the best business case.

By thoughtfully determining how you can weave health equity into every aspect of your business, you can reach all the different dimensions of the American consumer.

Listen here to explore more strategies for reducing disparities and improving health equity. 

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