Inaugural EY health equity survey finds eagerness for cross-sector collaboration, but gaps in strategy

Healthcare access and quality are a top health equity priority for healthcare stakeholders, according to a new survey.

The inaugural survey was conducted by Ernst & Young’s Center for Health Equity and reached 500 leaders across provider, payer, public health, life sciences, nonprofit and community organizations working on equity. 

Overall, the survey findings demonstrated strong collaboration, but a lack of cohesive priorities runs the risk of wasted resources, a report on the findings said. 

“Health equity isn’t something that you can do alone. It’s an essentially interdisciplinary challenge,” Susan Garfield, EY Americas chief public health officer and co-director of the EY Center for Health Equity, told Fierce Healthcare. “The different approaches to health equity isn’t necessarily a problem but it creates an opportunity for greater alignment.”

More than half of organizations have a designated chief health equity officer, signifying health equity’s increasing importance on the executive agenda, a report on the survey’s findings said. While the vast majority of organizations have a health equity strategy, it’s relatively new for many, with a third developing it within the past three years. 

Behind access and quality, strategy development and diversity and inclusion of employees were other top priorities for most respondents. That access and quality—something that cannot be solved by any one organization alone—was at the top of the list shows that all respondents acknowledge collaboration as a top priority, Garfield said.

Top barriers preventing respondents from implementing strategy were lack of common understanding of what health equity entails and a lack of financial commitment. Others included a lack of leadership commitment as well as a lack of available data. For example, though public health organizations rely heavily on data, nearly half said collecting and stratifying information was a challenge. That finding is an “opportunity marker,” Garfield said.

While most organizations have a health equity data and analytics strategy in place (85%), and even more have defined key performance indicators to track progress on health equity goals, it is less common to use data to inform improvement on these initiatives. “Just because you have a strategy for your data and analytics doesn’t mean that you actually have them yet,” Garfield noted.

At the same time, while many respondents feel their organization has a high understanding of health equity fundamentals, some (16%) report as a top barrier to implementing initiatives a lack of common awareness of what health equity entails. There is a difference between knowing about something and actually applying it in practice, Garfield said.

Providers, public health and community organizations were found to be mostly using data to identify inequities, while payers and life science organizations were found to be using them to define long-term strategies for health equity. 

Healthcare organizations have increasingly come to recognize that DEI among employees can have positive healthcare outcomes for patients, the report noted. About a quarter of all surveyed organizations prioritize DEI, though payers, nonprofits and community organizations are more likely to be in the early stages of planning DEI initiatives. 

When it comes to diversity in clinical research, one quarter of organizations with diversity as a top five health equity priority also prioritize inclusive protocol design and patient recruitment. But a quarter of providers and 15% of life sciences organizations have not yet identified metrics to measure clinical trial diversity goals. 

Overall, the survey’s findings “speak to the emerging nature of most organizations’ health equity efforts,” the report concluded. As organizations invest in additional capabilities to do health equity work, “it is clear there is significant work to be done to align efforts and amplify impact.”