Industry Voices—Challenging the status quo to deliver inclusive care for all

As a healthcare community, we’ve made significant progress in medical innovations and digital technology. But health inequities still prohibit many people from benefiting from these advancements. Beyond focusing on the latest digital tools, we also need to challenge the status quo in our work, taking bold action to make access to high-quality care more inclusive.

Advancing health equity means removing the obstacles to health that lead to greater illness, higher death rates, and greater financial strain among some populations.

For example, 70% of Black adults believe the healthcare system often treats people unfairly based on their race or ethnic background, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. And research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that Hispanic/Latino women are 40 percent more likely than white women to have cervical cancer and 30 percent more likely to die from cervical cancer.

Redefine relationships with providers

When designing inclusive care services, it’s important to start with human-centered design. This approach seeks to understand personal experiences by applying empathy, demonstrating cultural humility, and investigating opportunities from different perspectives. Ideally, organizations should co-create services or solutions with individuals from the communities they’re designing for. We also need to approach our work with an understanding of the systemic disparities—in access to areas such as food, transportation, housing and employment—that affect people’s health.

While no single organization can address all disparities, we’ve found that working with providers and communities can remove barriers to care and help everyone better navigate the healthcare system. Many individuals from historically marginalized communities experience significant challenges finding a provider who understands their unique needs, appreciates their cultural history through identification or allyship, and creates a safe space for accepting care.

Providers learn the science of medicine, but often they’re not taught enough about how to deliver care to specific communities, or which cultural competencies to be aware of when speaking with someone from a different background.

For example, Pew Research Center found that more than one-fourth of Hispanic/Latino adults in the U.S. lack a regular healthcare provider. In our research on inclusive care, members of this community told us they avoided going to the doctor due to reasons like language barriers and fear of judgment. 

Similarly, some members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, and sexual and gender minority (LGBTQIA+) community told us that they feared discrimination or a lack of acceptance and respect. One person noted, “I don’t discuss sexual identity openly with my doctor, not anymore. I say I can't have kids instead of saying my husband is trans. Lots of healthcare providers don't know how to navigate this.”

One clinician who participated in our research about providing care to the LGBTQIA+ community said, “I lack knowledge and comfort with knowing what language to use and I am not familiar with their unique health risks.”

These types of experiences led us to partner with the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center at The Fenway Institute, an organization that optimizes quality, cost-effective care for people who identify as LGBTQIA+. Together, we developed a continuing medical education webinar that helped clinicians better understand this community’s experiences, communicate effectively, and demonstrate cultural humility. In a post-webinar survey, 83% of participants expressed confidence about applying these insights to their work.

Our research also suggests that having a culturally competent provider could address links between culture and diet for Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals managing health issues like obesity and type 2 diabetes. This is one reason we are exploring digital solutions that help people find providers trained to deliver effective care across different backgrounds, cultures, and identities.

Focus on key opportunities

As the healthcare industry continues to develop human-centered inclusive care programs, we recommend focusing on five key areas:

  • Whole health: Members of historically marginalized communities need access to a coordinated, culturally trained team of providers who can address every aspect of their health: physical, behavioral, and social.
  • Advocacy and care navigation: Some people may benefit from having an advocate to help them find answers, remove barriers, and manage social and emotional concerns. The healthcare system can be confusing, so care navigators can also help people find providers and services based on their unique preferences and needs.
  • Digital experiences: Consumers increasingly expect digital healthcare experiences that align with the consumer experiences they’ve grown to love. With U.S. demographics shifting to a more diverse population, we must design these digital experiences with different communities in mind. We also need to ensure all consumers have access to adequate connectivity and devices to take advantage of these solutions.
  • Education: Health education topics must be tailored to individuals in different communities and presented in a socially and culturally relevant way.
  • Hiring: A deliberate focus on inclusive hiring within our own teams enables greater diversity and different perspectives, fueling the innovative thinking we need to make healthcare more inclusive and effective.

Improving lives and communities means ensuring that every person—no matter who they are or where they live—has access to high-quality, whole-person care. It means applying empathy and challenging the status quo. And it means designing solutions and services that consider the unique needs, barriers, and experiences of all communities, especially those that have historically been marginalized.

Inclusive care is essential to effect change and address challenges that lead to care avoidance and adverse health outcomes. We as healthcare leaders now have an important opportunity to put these ideas into action.

Omid Toloui is the vice president of innovation at Anthem.