The Case for Health Equity

The Case for Health Equity

By Elisa Arespacochaga

It was one of those "lightbulb turning on" moments.

When asked about making the case for equity to health care organizations, Kimberlydawn Wisdom, M.D., gave an answer that grabbed everyone’s attention. Dr. Wisdom, senior vice president and chief wellness and diversity officer at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, and IFDHE board chair, made it clear that there are multiple reasons for making health equity a key priority when you look at all the benefits through different lenses.

Dr. Wisdom described how organizations should approach health equity through the door that’s most compelling and inspiring for them to take action while emphasizing, “This is hard and long work, but it’s very rewarding.” She explained that for some, the moral imperative is what drives them – providing care to all our communities and the desire to do the right thing. For others, she pointed out that the impact health equity has on improving patient outcomes is what propels efforts to improve access, reduce disparities and strengthen communities. Also compelling, she explained, is understanding the financial impact, the potential savings and value that health equity strategies can deliver to the health care system and community. “The beauty of striving for health equity and eliminating disparities is that all of these avenues are available.”

As Dr. Wisdom pointed out, there are many angles that health care organizations should consider when planning strategies to promote health equity. For Henry Ford, equity is “the other side of the coin” of quality and is inextricably linked in their pursuit of quality and patient safety. As detailed in this brief from the AHA’s The Value Initiative, not only are health equity and quality intricately connected, research shows that improvements in health equity can provide tremendous value to patients, hospitals and the health care delivery system.

Learning about implicit biases, understanding cultures, and training in cultural competency and humility can all create better patient-provider bonds, build trust and make hospitals a place of healing for patients of all racial backgrounds, ethnicities and gender identities. To ensure a positive experience, patients must become comfortable enough with their providers to share personal information and build trust. More details are outlined in the AHA’s How equity impacts the patient experience blog and by listening to the A Closer Look at Health Equity podcast.

When considering health equity’s financial impact, the potential savings that may be realized by decreasing repeat emergency department visits and readmissions as a result of improved patient outcomes and experiences cannot be ignored. In fact, more equitable health outcomes could save up to $1 trillion a year. That’s one of the key points made in the AHA’s Making a Financial Case for Health Equity resource. Additionally, the How Health Equity Impacts Outcomes resource looks at socioeconomic factors and preventable conditions linking economic well-being of communities and better health outcomes.

It will take strong leadership, commitment and a coalition of action across our communities to address the systemic drivers of health inequity. But we are making no small plans, and the AHA team is here to support you in this work. Join us on December 9th to hear more from your colleagues on how leading hospitals and health systems strive to advance health equity, diversity and inclusion. The 2020 AHA Executive Forum: Advancing Health Equity and Eliminating Care Disparities runs from 1 – 3:15 p.m. ET. AHA member leaders can take advantage of this event by registering here.

Health equity isn’t something else we do, it is at the heart of everything we do.

Elisa Arespacochaga is vice president of the AHA’s Physician Alliance and interim executive lead of the IFDHE