Health Equity Key 2024 Priority, But Challenges Lie Ahead

Staffing and the insurgence of artificial intelligence could imperil healthcare and life science work on health equity in 2024.

Health equity will remain in the industry spotlight as healthcare and life sciences executives continue to eye it as a top priority for 2024, according to a new report from Deloitte.

The Deloitte Health Equity Outlook, which surveyed executives and health equity leaders in the medical and life sciences spaces, found that health equity will be a top-10 goal for 80 percent of C-suiters. This further cements the prominence health equity has gained in recent years.

“While most industry leaders we have spoken to see value in ensuring that everyone has access to high-quality health care, realizing a return on the investment (ROI) requires an intentional strategy and time,” began the report, which was authored by Jay Bhatt, DO, managing director of the Deloitte Health Equity Institute and the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, and Maningbè B. Keita Fakeye, PhD, health equity research manager at Deloitte Services, LP.

Currently, around half of healthcare and life sciences leaders are expecting to increase their health equity investments next year. Implemented judiciously, Deloitte said those investments could pay off in both the near and the long term by bolstering staff recruitment and retention and streamlining organization products and services.

That good business sense, plus an eye for regulation, are pushing organizations to continue placing health equity front and center, the report furthered.

Just around half (53 percent) of surveyed health equity leaders said that regulatory requirements, like some from state Medicaid programs or private payers, will drive health equity plans in 2024. Likewise, 49 percent said regulatory focus on patient engagement outcomes will push health equity efforts further.

Organizations can expect to face obstacles like limited resources, competing organizational priorities, and margin pressures, keeping them from meeting their health equity priorities, respondents added.

“Setting goals—and being able to accurately measure progress toward meeting those goals— could help overcome these challenges,” the report authors advised. “More than half of survey respondents (55%) said having a well-defined way to measure and evaluate health equity was a strategic priority for 2024.”

As healthcare and life sciences companies continue to craft their health equity strategies, respondents said they need to consider multiple compounding influences.

The insurgence of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, for example, could risk health equity due to issues with biased algorithms. Currently, a whopping 80 percent of health equity leaders said they aren’t involved in their organization’s AI strategy, but the report authors predicted that may change if companies truly do continue to prioritize both AI and health equity.

Next, the report authors pointed out community engagement and collaboration as an enabler, with 60 percent of health equity leaders saying community partnership is a key goal for 2024. Community engagement is key to improving patient trust, and organizations need to embrace community partnerships as an asset instead of a cost. In particular, biotech partnerships with community health centers could connect researchers to populations otherwise missed in clinical trials.

But even as community collaboration stands to enable health equity efforts, workforce woes could be a hinderance. Overall, 40 percent of respondents said workforce recruitment, retention, and burnout are going to be major challenges for their organizations’ health equity work.

“Organizations might consider expanding their recruitment efforts to include the communities they serve,” Deloitte recommended. “That could help organizations build trust by creating a workforce with a broader lived experience.” In addition, efforts to improve employee experience and wellbeing will also be crucial.

Similar to boosting community collaboration, health equity leaders said their organizations are setting their sites on cross-ecosystem partnerships in the new year. Public-private partnerships continues to be a fruitful avenue, the Deloitte authors wrote.

“However, it is important to leverage interdisciplinary groups to try to tackle a multidimensional problem like health inequity. Ecosystem collaborations could be an opportunity to drive value and growth through new and innovative engagements.”

Finally, 55 percent of leaders said their research strategy would be a top priority next year. Better data will be key to propel health equity efforts. Organizations need to focus on data quality, community engagement, and multisectoral collaborations, Deloitte said. Data infrastructure, data standardization, interoperability, and data sharing are among the biggest challenges here.

“Health equity is at a critical juncture with important challenges that need to be overcome,” the report concluded. “But we are optimistic that health care and life sciences organizations are on the right path as they head into 2024.”

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