There's room for improvement in hospitals' health equity strategies, survey finds

Healthcare leaders are thinking about health equity but are still in the early stages of planning and implementing strategies, a new survey has found.

The survey was conducted jointly by the BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence and Innovation and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Market Intelligence Unit.

It reached more than 150 provider executives and leaders in diversity, equity and inclusion, and its aim was to understand ongoing efforts around health equity and the successes and pitfalls of various strategies.

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Just over a third of organizations have health equity strategies in place, the survey found. The same amount have plans to implement one in the coming year. BDO noted in a report on the survey, however, that the outcomes of these strategies remain unclear. 

Organizations reported the top challenges in addressing health equity include tracking economic health (59%), receiving reimbursement (40%) and tracking provider performance and patient outcomes (each 36%). One-third also reported struggling to identify gaps in disparities.

Additional data may indicate many still think too broadly about health equity, per BDO: half of the respondents said that when training new staff, they focus on discussing disparities among diverse patients, while less than a third said they focus on their specific patient population’s demographics. Doing the latter would maximize impact and offer metrics for tracking progress, BDO wrote.

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It’s critical for providers to acknowledge and account for patients’ social determinants, and for providers to incorporate those into billing codes to be adequately reimbursed. It’s also important for private equity owners of hospitals not to squeeze costs that could affect patient populations. For instance, employing translators for patients who do not speak English may seem like a cost worth cutting, but it actually provides a long-term return on investment to be able to communicate accurately with patients.  

Of several key performance indicators, quality of care measures were reported as a top priority by nearly two-thirds of respondents, followed by community engagement (34%) and demographics (22%). Data collection was only considered a top priority by 14% of respondents.

The report noted that analyzing data collected on patient outcomes is key to improving care and reducing readmittance. 

While at most places, executives manage health equity at their organizations, all roles should be involved, the report stated, especially clinicians, who interact with patients daily. Community stakeholders and patients themselves should also be involved.

“It’s not about the same care plans; it’s about the same potential for positive health outcomes,” the report said. “By maturing your approach to health equity, you can create a measurable and valuable difference in the communities you serve and bring equitable care to all your patients.”