Wondering how long you’ll live? Research suggests that the best predictor isn’t your genetic code but your ZIP code. In Chicago and Washington, D.C., living in the right neighborhood can add nearly 30 years to your life. This suggests that social factors like poverty, pollution, crime, access to healthy food, and distance to care play crucial roles in health outcomes. Minorities and low-income Americans are disproportionately impacted by these social determinants.
Vituity sat down with three esteemed healthcare leaders interested in ending these healthcare disparities. All share a passion for meeting the needs of today’s patients and communities—particularly those in traditionally underserved areas. Five key takeaways emerged from the conversation that can help hospitals reach and serve more patients—particularly those who have historically been underserved.
1. Offer Multiple Ways to Access Care
“While we’ve seen a boom in technology, virtual health, and really creative ways to engage patients, I've also seen a lot of patients get left behind,” said Imamu Tomlinson, MD, MBA, CEO of Vituity. Tomlinson’s organization has responded by finding ways to meet patients where, when, and how they need help. For example, Vituity’s street medicine programs provide medical care to unhoused people at shelters and encampments. In 2020, Tomlinson launched the Vituity Cares charitable foundation with a mission to provide health outreach to underserved communities.
2. Use Technology to Identify and Bridge Care Gaps
Panelist Devdutta Sangvai, MD, MBA, vice president of population health management at Duke University Health System, described how his organization assists patients with unmet health needs. When an individual presents to any of Duke’s clinics with elevated blood pressure, for example, the clinician flags the EHR. The patient is then referred to the appropriate department for further evaluation.
3. Find Out How and Where Your Patients Prefer to Receive Care
Surveys can provide valuable insights that can make outreach more effective. For example, Reginald Eadie, MD, MBA, president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England, led his system’s effort to establish drive-up COVID-19 testing in early 2020. However, survey data from some Trinity Health hospitals revealed that one-third of patients didn’t own cars. The organization therefore pivoted to a more community-based testing strategy.
4. Admit Your Mistakes When Addressing Health Equity
As the previous example shows, missteps are common when it comes to health equity. All panelists urged their fellow leaders to act with humility and to be willing to pivot when new information comes along. Trinity Health used lessons learned from its COVID-19 testing program to launch a successful community-based vaccine effort, including a 24-hour pop-up clinic that benefited many essential workers. “Instead of us deciding what’s best for the community, we let the community tell us what’s best for them,” Eadie said.
5. Create a Culture Where Every Patient is “Ours”
Traditionally, our health system has left care coordination and health promotion to primary care providers. However, uninsured patients (and those who can’t be seen during office hours) are likely to seek care in emergency rooms and urgent care clinics. Tomlinson therefore believes that to end health disparities, hospital leadership and every clinician must be willing to play a role in primary and preventative care. “Whether we’re meeting with patients online, in an office, or an emergency room, we need to manage that opportunity to get them healthier,” he said.
Watch the webinar replay.