In 2010, minorities represented 35 percent of the U.S. population—a percentage which has only increased in the past 5 years. In a 2013 Disparities Policies Brief, the Kaiser Family Foundation noted that by 2050, minorities are expected to account for more than half of the U.S. population. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations are increasingly aware of this diversity as they work to create positive patient experiences for patients from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
But what does it take to overcome obstacles to care like language barriers, limited incomes and immigration status?
Health Disparities a Focus of Minority Health Month
In 1956, Dr. Marin Luther King Jr., told the Medical Committee for Human Rights that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” Almost 60 years later, disparities continue to challenge the healthcare industry. The CDC kicked off Minority Health Month by spotlighting a series of programs that affirm this year’s theme, “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity.”
- Million Hearts Initiative supports community and clinical outreach to reduce incidences of heart disease and stroke, particularly among high-risk, minority populations
- The Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration Project coordinates efforts across healthcare providers, community organizations and schools to address childhood obesity with a focus on areas where a large number of children are eligible for the income-based Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- Influenza Vaccine Disparities Partnership is a grassroots movement which brings together community leaders, local and state public health departments, pharmacy chains and others in an effort to reduce incidence of influenza among minority populations
- National Networks aim to reduce tobacco use among African Americans, American Indians/Native Alaskans, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics.
As hospitals and other healthcare providers undertake similar efforts to engage minority patients, one thing is clear—the status quo is not working. What needs to change?
Creating Healthcare Organizations that Address Disparities
It’s not just hospitals that need to focus on healthcare disparities. Insurers, too, must do a better job of attracting and addressing the needs of minority populations.
In an article from Minority Health Month last year, Fierce Healthcare cited four tactics for promoting healthcare equity. The recommendations came from a joint report by Edward L. Martinez and Frederick D. Hobby of the AHA Institute for Diversity in Health Management and Robert C. Like, M.D., director of the Center for Healthy Families and Cultural Diversity at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J.
- Work collaboratively with the community. In order to address disparity, you need to fully understand the make-up of the community you serve and develop policies that incorporate input from community organizations that are on the frontline.
- Cultivate a diverse C-suite. If your C-suite and governing board lack diversity, chances are good that you will lack the needed perspectives to adequately address minority population needs.
- Recruit a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community. One of the biggest challenges in reducing disparity is connecting with minority patients. By building and training your staff for greater cross-cultural awareness, you begin to break down barriers to health equity.
- Develop services based on best practices. That means communicating with patients and their families in their preferred language and standardizing data collection to identify potential disparities.
In addition, hospitals and other healthcare-related organizations need better insights into the individuals that make up minority populations in order to improve the patient experience. Ray Carson, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at health insurer Highmark Inc., said, “We know customers today expect a more differentiated customer experience. Our ability to understand those diverse expectations and then develop solutions for them is very dependent on our ability to develop a workforce that reflects our member community.”
Important to keep in mind is that diversity is not limited to ethnicity, gender, age or any other physical definition of consumers. Diversity of thought, attitudes, beliefs and lifestyle can be as much a contributing factor to consumers’ health behaviors and access to care. This is where psychographics come into play, helping healthcare providers understand the keys to motivating patient activation.
Hospitals and other healthcare organizations can leverage psychographic segmentation to break down barriers to effective communication. Not all patients within a minority population are motivated by the same things. Understanding the types of patients within a given population allows organizations to customize how they communicate—beyond a simple translation—to drive higher engagement and improve the patient experience.
After all, overcoming health disparities is a two-way street: healthcare providers can take steps to make care available to everyone, and patients need to be accountable for acting on it. Engaging patients in psychographic segment-preferred ways can help motivate patients toward this accountability.