4 ways hospitals can improve health equity

Hospitals are often one of the most significant institutions within their local communities, and with a few strategies, leaders can promote better health equity and care access to hard-to-reach patients.

In a post for the NEJM Catalyst blog, Kedar Mate, M.D., chief innovation and education officer at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and Ronald Wyatt, M.D., chief quality officer, Hamad Medical Corporation, note that healthcare organizations must leverage their economic power to improve care access to disadvantaged populations. Hospitals or health systems must make equity a “core strategy,” they said, outlining several steps organizations can take. Here are three of their suggestions:

  • Lead from the top. Hospital leaders must be on board with improving equity and should shape the strategy and vision for such initiatives, according to the post. Having senior leaders actively involved and promoting health equity sets the tone for the entire organization and ensures that it’s seen as a priority.
  • Take aim at the social determinants of health. Identify unmet social needs by partnering with community organizations that often have valuable insight about these needs. For instance, the authors write that Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina chose not to outsource its housekeeping services, and instead hired local workers to fill those roles and bolster employment rates in its community.
  • Confront institutional racism. Racism, whether covert or obvious, causes poor health among patients of color and drives unequal care, they write. Confront any discriminatory practices or bias among staff or other patients to increase access for minorities.

Another way to connect with underserved populations is to offer medical interpreters, as estimates suggest 40 million people in the U.S. have limited English proficiency, FierceHealthcare previously reported. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights last year released its final rule on ways to improve health equity, and one key tenet was to accommodate patients who may need language assistance. Patients with limited English skills may not be able to understand directions from physicians, and that communications barrier can be a significant roadblock to needed care. HHS' rule clearly defines the needed qualifications to serve as medical interpreter.