Diversity in healthcare leadership drives better patient outcomes and community connection

Bringing a diversity of voices into healthcare management from different racial, cultural and economic backgrounds isn't just the right thing to do for fairness' sake, it's a savvy business strategy for taking on the sweeping changes coming in the U.S. healthcare system, according to Becker's Hospital Review.

Increasing diversity at all staff levels in hospitals and healthcare institutions will result in better patient outcomes and a deeper connection to the community, the article states, pointing to a 2013 survey by the American Hospital Association's Institute for Diversity, which found that minorities represent 31 percent of patients nationally, but hold a mere 14 percent of hospital board positions, 12 percent of executive leadership positions and 17 percent of first- and mid-level management positions.

This disconnect between hospitals and the patients they serve can present a cultural gulf that must be overcome if the healthcare industry is to make the transition to value-based, patient-centered care. In 2015, a study by researchers at the University of Southern California found that patients who feel judged or stereotyped by healthcare providers are less likely to follow medical instructions than other patients as well as being more likely to mistrust healthcare providers.

Increasing the number of physicians of color will foster trust and respect between healthcare providers and the community and drive up patient satisfaction levels, a crucial metric for hospitals' success, Patricia A. Maryland, president of healthcare operations and chief operating officer of Ascension Health, wrote in the New Pittsburgh Courier. "It's clear that more needs to be done to encourage African-Americans to pursue medical professions--and ensure the proper supports are in place to nurture diversity in the field," she wrote. 

At Harvard University Medical School, students of color have banded together to form the activist group White Coats Black Lives, FierceHealthcare previously reported. The group is dedicated to eradicating racial healthcare inequities and increasing the representation of medical professionals of color across the spectrum.

While a 2015 study shows that minority representation is improving among healthcare leadership, there is still a long way to go.

For healthcare to successfully diversify, the effort must begin at the very top, Georges Benjamin, M.D., executive director of the American Public Health Association, said in an interview with AJMC.com.

"I think we have to recognize that health equity is something that we can achieve, that it's not unachievable," said Benjamin. "Too often we say these problems are too big to solve. But they're not. We've seen it happen and it requires data-driven decision making, commitment to equity, and recognition that diversity is important."

To learn more:
- read the Becker's article
- read the study abstract (.pdf)
- here's the New Pittsburgh Courier article
- watch the interview