Bridging the gap: 5 keys to healthcare equity

The events of 2020 highlighted the need for racial justice in healthcare. Appalling COVID-19 death rates among Black, Latino, and Indigenous people raised public awareness around health disparities and sparked calls for change. As a result, healthcare leaders now have a rare opportunity to address the systemic impacts of discrimination on minority communities.


During a Feb. 2 webinar hosted by Vituity, Dr. Imamu Tomlinson, the company’s CEO, led a panel of diverse healthcare leaders in conversation. These experts identified five keys to healthcare justice:

1. Community-based care. The pandemic has turned our provider-centric care model on its head—and it’s probably for the best. “Our emerging model isn’t necessarily about telehealth,” says Dr. Tomlinson. “It’s about actually meeting patients where they are.” To this end, forward-thinking health systems are innovating to bring care closer to patients. Examples include launching mobile primary care teams and engaging dentists and pharmacists to perform health screenings.

2. Pandemic response. Underserved communities were disproportionately impacted when primary care providers closed their doors to in-person visits. 2020 mortality data suggests that many people of color died of unmanaged chronic diseases, like diabetes and hypertension. At the same time, these patients went without important health and cancer screenings. “I think we are going to see a pandemic after the pandemic, especially in the minority community,” says Dr. Wayne Frederick, President of Howard University.

3. Cultural competence. Effective care requires us to understand our patients’ experiences, from the difficulties of quarantining in a multigenerational household to working without sick leave. Healthcare leaders can promote cultural competence by providing training, hiring diverse providers, and providing leadership pathways for minority candidates. “Sometimes the person you appoint may not have the best résumé,” says Dr. Maureen Bell, Emergency Department Chair at Howard University Hospital. “Not because they’re untalented but because no one has given them a chance.”

4. Courageous leadership. Fighting health disparities means surfacing uncomfortable truths. We must speak up when the hospital board doesn’t reflect the community’s diversity or the organization is overdue for a female CEO. Courage also means speaking up for the voiceless in our organizations, like housekeepers, janitors, and food service workers. And finally, it means immersing ourselves in our communities by teaching, volunteering, and working clinical shifts.

5. Forging trust. Healthcare justice requires us to heal the distrust between minorities and medical and government institutions. This starts with acknowledging the history of discrimination within the healthcare system while working to correct misinformation. One of the most effective ways we can do this is to partner with trusted community organizations like historically Black colleges, churches, and schools. And finally, it’s important for diverse healthcare leaders to show our trust in science. When staff at St. Mary Medical Center (California) hesitated to get the coronavirus vaccine, President and CEO Carolyn Caldwell volunteered to go next. “I had to show them it was safe,” she says.

Watch the full conversation here:

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