The financial implications of not having health equity programs in healthcare can be significant for all of us. Deloitte estimates that inequities in the U.S. health system cost approximately $320 billion from increased healthcare spending, lost productivity, preventable hospitalizations, and costs associated with premature death and disability, and spending could balloon to $1 trillion in the next 15 years if it is not addressed. 

Access to quality healthcare is a fundamental right that should be available to everyone, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. Not only is it a moral obligation to provide high-quality care, but it’s also a wise business decision. We can reduce healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes by addressing health disparities early and providing care management for underserved populations.  

With one in five Americans going home to a family that speaks a language other than English, medical miscommunication is a real problem when it comes to managing readmission rates and medication adherence. Health equity programs can help to identify and reach patients with literacy and language barriers, especially since language gaps are hard to address once the patient leaves the clinical setting. One solution is to implement multilingual voice platforms, such as SpeechMED, to offer care management for the elderly, those with vision problems, and people with limited English proficiencies. It proves a simple and accessible way to empower patients and their caregivers to understand vital health information in their native language. This can help bridge the communication gap and improve patient understanding, engagement, and satisfaction, which is critical to improving health outcomes and reducing disparities.  

In addition, several oversight groups have started including health equity metrics to encourage healthcare organizations to take concrete steps toward improving the health and well-being of all patients. These include: 

  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is penalizing organizations that fail to address health disparities through deductions in Star Ratings 
  • The Joint Commission that accredits and certifies healthcare organizations has developed standards that require organizations to identify and address disparities in their patient populations and provide evidence-based interventions to address common disparities. 
  • The National Committee for Quality Assurance is expanding the race and ethnicity stratification to 8 HEDIS measures in 2023 to address care gaps and use data to improve equity. 
  • The National Quality Forum has created a roadmap to achieve health equity, which includes recommendations for healthcare organizations, policymakers, and other stakeholders to address health disparities and promote equity in healthcare. It focuses on key areas, such as improving data collection and reporting, addressing social determinants of health, and promoting cultural competence and health literacy. 

As many healthcare organizations are faced with budget constraints and staff shortages, they might feel that it is not the right time to implement health equity programs. But these programs can help optimize resources by focusing on preventive care, reducing the need for costly medical interventions, and improving patient outcomes. Staff retention and satisfaction can also increase, as these programs help them understand and address the cultural and linguistic needs of their patients, making them feel a sense of pride in delivering high-quality care.  

The business case for health equity is clear. Not implementing these programs can be detrimental to your operations, including increased healthcare costs, reduced patient satisfaction and loyalty, negative impact on reputation and community relations, and legal and regulatory ramifications. Let’s work together to improve the quality of care for all patients! 

Next week, we will address how companies not in the healthcare space can implement health equity programs.