Healthcare without discrimination: A lesson in leadership

Historically, acute care delivery has been provider centric. Patients in need of any care, from stitches to surgery, all traveled to hospitals without question. Even as the retail, travel and finance sectors began to blend in-person and online experiences, healthcare remained stubbornly rooted in the physical. Many patients chafed at the inefficiencies and inconvenience in the system. Still, it took a global pandemic to spark meaningful change.

The coronavirus pandemic forced nearly every part of the healthcare system to adapt. Doctors' offices shuttered, and anxious patients began avoiding emergency departments and hospitals. As a result, technology, processes and delivery platforms rapidly shifted to the "new normal" — extending care beyond hospital walls. This new patient-centered paradigm will unquestionably survive the pandemic as the industry evolves to meet patients' changing expectations.

What does this patient-centric shift mean for healthcare leaders? For one, it means we must strive to meet patients where they are on their terms. Now more than ever, it's imperative for our healthcare workforce to reflect the communities we serve to better understand their needs.

As healthcare leaders, ensuring equality and equity among teams and our patients ultimately falls to us. It's our responsibility to create an environment where people can be brilliant at every level of care delivery. To do that, we must recognize their stories, experiences and how their unique approaches to problem solving lead to breakthroughs for patients and health systems. In this article, I share my thoughts on how we can lead inclusively to ensure a more equitable future for our healthcare teams and patients.

The goal and the opportunity

The media widely reports the importance of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities within companies. What's often missed is that the goal should not only be appearing more diverse by simply hiring more Black and Indigenous people and people of color. The focus should be achieving diversity to incorporate a wide range of perspectives and points of view from people of different cultures and backgrounds.

There have been numerous studies conducted to find the many benefits of diversity and inclusion within companies. For example, data shows inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80 percent in team-based assessments. Ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform their peers, and companies with more women on the board statistically outperform their peers. Despite the initiatives to diversify the workforces in individual companies, we continue to see inequitable rates of recognition and promotion for minority groups.

To truly make a change, I challenge you to consider it a question of what I call brilliance — cultivating an environment that empowers people to bring their unique and diverse strengths to work for the overall benefit of the team and the patients we serve. We need to bring brilliance into every facet of healthcare. To do that, we must recruit the right people into the appropriate roles by recognizing their unique talents and problem-solving skills. We must also recognize all the work that goes into each accomplishment and acknowledge those who work behind the scenes, not only those in the spotlight.

The drive for innovation and discovery in medicine is a hallmark of its patient-centric nature. The journey to achieve these advancements, however, tends not to be inclusive. Individual accolades are awarded, which promotes competition and neglects to recognize the hard work of all of those who contributed to success. As a leader in this environment, I am charting a different course, fostering a culture of inclusivity and utilizing input from every member of my team to transform the delivery of healthcare.

Lead through action

The events of the past year have brought much-needed awareness to healthcare inequities. Now, it's time to do the work. Bringing care to patients where and when they need is not enough. We must also consider who they are, where they're from, their socioeconomic status, who lives with them, their access to food and housing, their access to follow-up care, and the list goes on. This is how we bring healthcare to the next level.

As a leader, it's easy to say, "I already have a DEI program." But it can’t stop there. Inequities within companies are all too common. We must personally play a role in eradicating the beliefs, policies and attitudes that perpetuate discrimination. And getting there will take courageous leaders who are willing to surface uncomfortable truths.

I recently served on a panel with Wayne Frederick, MD, the 17th president of Howard University. Dr. Frederick publicly expressed his commitment to making sure Howard's 18th president will be a woman, the first time in the university's history. This is the kind of leadership our health systems need right now.

A culture of equity

At Vituity, we believe a diverse culture starts with our leadership. As a clinician-led healthcare organization, it's our role and privilege to lead the industry by fostering a culture and network of inclusivity. Our shared company definition of success includes a core belief that each of us must be brilliant in our roles to reach collective success. We make a point to recognize and collectively harness our individual strengths while tapping into each other's unique talents and fostering a sense of belonging. This culture, on which we pride ourselves, encourages growth at all levels and recognition for those who deserve it.

To help foster this culture of brilliance among a new generation, Vituity established regular series of half-day learning sessions targeted to minority residents and senior medical students as they begin navigating a life in medicine. Called IMPACT, these forums join today's clinical leaders with tomorrow's generation, extending the expertise and knowledge it has taken years to cultivate. Young medical professionals can learn about different healthcare organizational structures and practice models so that they can choose one that best matches their aspirations, receive tips on building a strong financial position, and learn ways to serve and give back to our communities.

We also established the Vituity Cares Foundation. Our projects focus on mentoring tomorrow's diverse healthcare leaders, bringing quality care to underserved communities, and improving lives through outreach and our network of community partners. Our foundation allows us to extend our impact beyond our practices. It also allows us to collaborate with community organizations and amplify our results.

An inclusive culture starts with our leadership. As leaders, we have the expertise and network to be the exemplar, showing how a brilliant culture can increase health systems' effectiveness and successful patient outcomes.

Embracing accountability

As healthcare leaders, we operate highly complex organizations on the thinnest of margins with a sense of mission to improve our patients' lives. Are we up to the challenge of ushering in a new era of inclusivity? I believe the answer is a resounding "maybe."

Too often, we reward an individual instead of a team. Perhaps we passed diverse physicians and administrators over for promotions by favoring those who'd had more opportunities to shine. We may be waking up to the fact that our clinicians desperately need cultural competence training or that our recruiting practices are woefully outdated.

The good news is that the opportunity — and indeed, the imperative — for inclusive leadership has never been greater. Clinicians sincerely want to do what's best for patients and need leadership commitment to support them. And with strength, compassion and brilliance, we can lead the way. It won't happen in a day, a week or even a year, but we can and must do this for our organizations and most importantly, for the patients we serve.

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