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Health equity investment slated to continue into 2024

Nearly every organization plans to maintain their current health equity investments, with 73 percent saying they may increase their equity priorities.

Health equity efforts will almost certainly maintain their pace over the next year, as healthcare leaders assert that equitable care and closing of heath disparities is a social, ethical, and political priority, according to Ernst and Young’s Health Equity Outlook Report.

The report, out in its second iteration from EY’s Center for Health Equity, detailed a survey of nearly 500 health equity officers. Nearly every respondent (98 percent) said their organization’s health equity efforts will remain at current levels, and 92 percent said they think their organization’s financial investments into health equity will increase going into 2024.

About three-quarters (73 percent) said they think their health equity efforts will increase over the next year.

“Continuing to prioritize health equity remains a key focus for stakeholders across health, life science, government, payer and nonprofit and community groups sectors,” Susan Garfield, EY Americas chief public health officer, said in a statement. “Many report positive financial and clinical impacts from their investments to date and are maturing in their approaches. With growing health equity focus in 2024, organizations are flexing to align with new incentives and develop capabilities to meet requirements.”

Compared to last year’s survey, more respondents indicate that they want to develop their health equity strategies. Specifically, “Health Equity Strategy Development” was a high priority for around a third of organizations. Another 44 percent listed “Health care access and quality” as a top-three priority, while 31 percent said the same of “Health outcomes disparity closure.”

Increasingly, healthcare organizations recognize the role that data will play in their health equity practice, with 50 percent more respondents saying that data, AI, and technology are a health equity priority for this year. Another 88 percent are using data analytics to flag basic health equity advancements. That said, most organizations do acknowledge that their data analytics capabilities are only in their nascent stages.

Data limitations are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of health equity challenges, the report revealed.

“While examples of progress in the report are substantial, there is much more work to be done individually and collaboratively to address the full set of clinical and social needs that underserved populations face,” Garfield noted.

Organizations are stymied by competing organizational interests, with 41 percent saying that friction is a top challenge to their health equity work. Meanwhile, about a third (36 percent) said lack of financial commitment was a challenge, while 28 percent said they’re hamstrung by a lack of a business case for health equity work.

Still, organizations are activated by previous successes around health equity. More than half (65 percent) said they’ve seen a positive impact on their financial performance because of their health equity strategies, and 83 percent said the same about specific health outcomes.

Top performers reported that leadership buy-in, plus community engagement and trust, made a difference in their successes. For 52 percent of respondents, community connectivity proved to be one of the keys to driving health equity support across the organization ecosystem.

Indeed, partnerships are very common across organizations prioritizing health equity. For 81 percent of government healthcare entities, partnerships are a cornerstone of health equity programming. That’s also true for 73 percent of provider stakeholders, 61 percent of nonprofits, 57 percent of health payers, and 56 percent of life sciences companies.

Notably, health equity priorities vary across organization type, the report showed. For example, government health agencies are focused on integrated health equity strategies, while life sciences emphasize the use of data and AI to enable health equity.

The nonprofit and community health sector is focused on investing in health equity enablers, but they note that funding is a perennial issue.

Payers and providers are more aligned in their priorities, with both saying they are focused on healthcare access and quality. For payers, there’s also the requirement to fulfill regulatory guidelines, improve data and analytics capabilities, and build out a health equity workforce, the report said.

"Health equity will remain a paramount focus as health leaders cater to the evolving health ecosystem,” Garfield explained. “While challenges persist in meeting internal goals and regulatory standards, advancing initiatives from strategy to delivery holds the promise of identifying and addressing existing disparities."

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