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Over Half of Health Experts Lack Confidence in Health Equity Work

Just under 60 percent of industry stakeholders said it could take a decade before the US sees significant improvement in its health equity work.

It could be almost a decade before the United States medical industry sees any significant improvement in health equity, according to survey data from the Rise to Health Coalition, with many industry stakeholders lacking any confidence that the US is equipped to tackle the issue.

While 82 percent of the 1,400 survey respondents said they think health equity is a very or somewhat significant issue in the current healthcare landscape, only 43 percent think the industry has what it takes to fully address it.

These findings reflect what many have stated is a turning point for health equity.

Although certainly not a new concept, health equity rose to prominence around 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic, plus the nation’s racial reckoning and social unrest, pushed many to reconsider the forces behind health disparities.

But even though most people have come to recognize the importance of health equity, the nation’s medical industry is only in its first steps toward addressing it, as reflected by this survey. Only 16 percent of the survey’s respondents think the healthcare industry is currently equipped to tackle health equity, indicating that the industry needs to change and organizations need to develop best practices for achieving equitable outcomes.

Those best practices should start with programs that address social needs, survey respondents suggested, with 53 percent saying that addressing the social determinants of health will be among the most effective ways to achieve health equity.

“The Rise to Health Coalition survey results confirm that many health professionals are open to broadening the definition of 'health' to mean one’s overall quality of life,” Michael McAfee, EdD, president and CEO of PolicyLink, a Rise to Health Coalition partner, said in a public statement. “It is time to capitalize on this momentum to create a society that measures health not just by a lack of disease and illness, but by access to opportunities.” 

SDOH was followed by efforts to enhance organizational health literacy (34 percent), increase cultural competency and responsiveness training, ensure universal patient access to care (25 percent), create a system-wide culture of improvement (23 percent), and boost workforce diversity (16 percent).

But as noted above, not every healthcare professional thinks the US medical system is set up to make those strides. Half of the survey respondents said factors related to the affordability of healthcare get in the way of achieving health equity.

Healthcare affordability, which has been separately documented as a huge patient-facing issue, dwarfs other limiting factors like implicit biases (11 percent cited as a challenge), accessibility of care (10 percent cited as a challenge), and lack of health insurance coverage (8 percent cited as a challenge).

Although surveyed stakeholders weren’t confident the US healthcare industry as a whole could adequately tackle health equity, they did express confidence that their company or organization could. A little more than a quarter said they strongly agree that their organization could effectively address health equity, and about 40 percent said they somewhat agree. Only about a fifth were neutral, and only about 10 percent weren’t confident in their company.

According to Kedar Mate, MD, the president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), one of Rise to Health Coalition’s founding organizations, healthcare stakeholders need to consider the ways in which they can collaborate on building health equity.

“The data from this survey show that the overwhelming majority of health care workers view health equity as important but suggest that many see a gap between the status quo and what the future could be,” Mate, who is also a go-leader for the Rise to Health Coalition, said in the press release.

“Even those who recognize health equity as a priority cannot make it happen on their own,” Mate added. “The Rise to Health Coalition was created to bring together individuals and organizations to advance health equity through coordinated and collective action to transform health care.”

Moving the needle on health equity improvement isn’t going to be an overnight transformation, the survey respondents indicated. In fact, the industry is facing an uphill battle, with nearly 27 percent of stakeholders saying health equity has actually declined in the past five years.

Only an extremely small share of respondents think health equity can improve in less than a year, while about 24 percent predicted improvements could be evident in one to five years. The bulk of respondents said health equity improvements likely won’t come to light until five to 10 years from now, while roughly 20 percent expect gains to be made between 10 and 20 years.

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