Here are the steps executives should take to build out a successful health equity strategy

To meaningfully advance health equity, companies should prioritize data, focus on internal diversity as well as external, seek community input and support coalitions of partners, according to a new roadmap brief from Bain & Company.

While most executives (78%) say they have a health equity strategy, only 18% say it is well-defined and supported by milestones, a recent Bain survey cited in the brief found. Fewer than half of those who have a strategy believe it has been effective. 

About a third of executives believe the case for improving health equity is social, without business motivations, the brief said. As a result, they often treat health equity as a philanthropic effort that lacks the same rigor and resources as other bottom-line efforts. Competing priorities are the top barrier to advancing health equity, according to the Bain survey.

Companies that incorporate health equity into their core strategy and operations can encourage better patient outcomes while also improving financial outcomes. Effective health equity strategies can grow market share and boost productivity and efficiency, the brief said. 

To address health equity, Bain advised organizations to take the same steps as with any business matter: set measurable goals, quantify the value potential, target specific inequities and hold people accountable for execution. 

Nearly 60% of executives say their company has publicly stated its health equity strategy, per the report. More than half also say they collect and analyze health equity data. But fewer than a third incorporate it into their commercialization strategy and only 15% tie it to executive compensation, per the survey. Those who say they’ve made progress in health equity are nearly twice as likely to tie them to executive compensation and commercialization, the brief said.

Three-quarters of executives say health equity bolsters customer loyalty and brand value, per the Bain survey referenced in the brief. More than half see it as a strategy to raise revenue, while a third say it is a chance to cut costs. With a thoughtful approach, health equity can do all this and “spur a virtuous cycle of value creation,” the brief said.

Steps to improve health equity

The brief laid out four concrete steps executives can take to establish the economics of health equity. 

Set a goal 

This should be driven by data and a deep understanding of identified disparities to best develop specific targets for improvement. This should also be a top-down effort. 

The brief cited the work of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts as a case study. The organization systematically measured and published data on a set of comprehensive equity metrics early in its health equity journey. The CEO and board aligned on goals to address inequities, allocated the needed resources and rolled out the strategy down to the front line. The organization also partnered with the state’s largest providers to measure and reward reductions in health inequities, introducing financial incentives tied to improvements in equity. 

Make the business case for health equity

Executives should quantify the investment needed and the estimated potential value for ROI, according to the brief. This work cannot be done alone. Companies should recognize their limitations and strategically partner with policymakers, nonprofits and other healthcare stakeholders to fund and executive new initiatives.

Create a strategy that targets inequities

To be successful, companies should focus on highly specific, achievable and measurable goals, the brief said. Leaders should not shy away from data complexity and are encouraged to tie targets back to employee incentives. Finally, they should publicly and consistently report on progress.

For instance, Mass General Brigham started its system-wide health equity strategy by collecting data to quantify disparities and establishing goals to close the gaps. By establishing specific timelines and metrics, the system quickly began to make tangible headway, the report noted. 

Establish strong buy-in and execution

To sustain momentum, companies need a detailed execution plan that includes an implementation roadmap with defined milestones, owners and capital allocation. Practical leaders should start with specific programs and pilots, rooted in data, rather than trying to fix all aspects of health equity at once.

This plan can be paired with a change management plan, which must originate from executive leadership. Clear action and accountability are key to inspiring employees, strengthening morale and enhancing productivity, the brief said.

Other suggestions noted in the brief include incorporating health equity goals into quarterly and annual budget meetings, protecting employee time for necessary trainings, developing a multiyear graduated scale of incentives for senior leadership and hosting panel discussions of patient communities for their input.