Advancing health equity is everybody's business

Health equity is top of mind for organizations of all shapes and sizes — from prestigious academic medical centers to big tech companies to nimble startups. What unites these distinct players is the idea that to truly advance health equity, it is necessary to align around definitions, responsibilities, technology and data.

During a workshop sponsored by PwC at Becker's Hospital Review's 12th Annual Meeting, moderated by Charlotte Reardon, healthcare strategy and transformation partner at PwC, leaders representing a virtual health startup, a non-profit academic medical center and a business development accelerator for healthcare startups, discussed the implications of health equity for diverse health ecosystems. Panelists were: 

  • Jo Lim, vice president of strategy and business development, Babylon Health
  • Michelle Medina, MD, interim chief of population health and director, Cleveland Clinic Community Care
  • Martyna Skowron, business development lead for worldwide public sector venture and startups in healthcare, Amazon Web Services

Four key takeaways:

  1. Advancing health equity is about meeting people where they are. Meeting people where they are is a common phrase in health equity conversations. "What that translates to in everyday medical language is how do we actually help people care for themselves at home and how do we actually send personnel to the home to deliver services," Dr. Medina said.
  1. Solving for health equity is not a single stakeholder's responsibility. Ms. Skowron said the perception from a technology company's view is that many players are joining forces to solve for big challenges related to health equity and provision of mental health services. "Providers, payers, sophisticated startups are coming together in this 'solutioning' way . . . there's a role for everyone to play."

Dr. Medina gave the example of how, during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, one of the Cleveland Clinic's Medicaid managed care partners suggested that instead of waiting for some members, who lived in a housing community, to come get the vaccine, the health system should think about how it can get to them. The two organizations collaborated — above and beyond the terms of their payer-provider agreement — to arrange transportation options to get community members vaccinated.

  1. Technology is a social determinant of health. Just as homelessness or substandard housing, food insecurity and/or lack of transportation can limit a person's ability to live a healthy lifestyle and access healthcare, in the age of telemedicine so can lacking internet access. This deficiency is especially relevant for people in rural areas, for whom reaching a physician via telemedicine may be the only way to address health concerns. 
  1. Care model innovation with an eye toward equity is about leveraging data equitably. Because health data underpins decisions about who gets access to care, when and how, it is paramount to ensure that the information that health systems work with includes information from and about hard-to-reach communities.

"In a payer relationship that we have, [the payer] is very interested in what we can do because we're able to take risk on geographically spread populations; it doesn't have to be something around a brick-and-mortar clinic," Ms. Lim said, noting the unique advantages of virtual health companies such as Babylon. However, she added that the challenge is getting enough information from the community to know when someone is having a health crisis, for example. "I came to the U.S. 12 years ago; [we were] talking about it back then and we're still talking about it now."


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