Tackling Health Equity and Social Disparities: Reflections from the Recent COA and ION Exchange Meetings
Norm Shore, CEO of Patient Discovery
As we travel the industry conference circuit this spring, it continues to be evident that health equity and social disparities in healthcare remain at the forefront of discussions. As I reflect on my recent attendance at events like COA and the ION Exchange meeting, I’d like to take a moment to share my observations, key takeaways, and thoughts on a path forward for addressing these critical issues.
Recognizing the Problem and the Need for Action
A year ago, conversations centered on health equity challenges, but there were few if any, conversations happening around solutions. The industry acknowledged the problem but struggled to initiate change. However, this year it is evident a shift has occurred. Healthcare stakeholders are dedicating substantial resources to tackling health equity, and we’re starting to see some early progress as organizations structure people, processes, and technology around addressing these challenges. The federal government’s role in making health equity a central healthcare issue has been instrumental in this shift. There is finally rich dialogue happening on the real-world challenges faced by patients and families, the impact on health outcomes, and the actions we must collectively take to drive positive change.
Barriers to Health Equity and the Impact on Patients
One insight gleaned from attending these recent events was the profound effect of patients’ experiences outside the clinic on their health outcomes. Difficult decisions, such as choosing between work and chemotherapy, exemplify the life-threatening choices patients face daily. While healthcare providers are acutely aware of these challenges, they lack the time, resources, and tools to address them at scale.
Existing economic models also fall short in incentivizing practices to comprehensively address health equity. This gap leaves many patients, especially those outside the health system, without the support they need. A multi-pronged approach—combining people, processes, and technology—is required to make progress, and we must build models that support providers in these efforts.
The Role of Technology
Technology can and should play an important role in how we address health equity. Digital health solutions can augment communication between patients and care teams, opening the door to clear and confident information sharing. While technology is not a substitute for human interaction, it facilitates engagement, bridging the gap between patients and providers.
Key Takeaways and the Path Forward
- Health equity challenges are understood, and the impact is substantial, but the industry is still working to identify scalable solutions.
- Addressing health equity requires collaboration, integrating people, processes, and technology, and learning from experiences to iterate on successes.
- The current economic models do not sufficiently support the resources needed to address health equity.
Discussions within the medical community underscore the urgency and complexities of addressing health equity and social disparities. Incremental change is not enough—we need transformative solutions. This transformation involves breaking down barriers, fostering patient trust, and recognizing that health equity challenges are localized and community-specific.
Collaboration and innovation are essential to driving change. Stakeholders, including payers and pharmaceutical companies, are eager to contribute but often lack direction. Overcoming barriers to collaboration is imperative.
Though the path to health equity is long, we can find common ground, achieve success, and expand our efforts. Health equity extends beyond healthcare—it is a social issue affecting all facets of society.
Patient Discovery is dedicated to being part of the solution with tools and innovations that contribute to health equity, and I believe that, together, we can improve lives.
As we look forward from these conferences, let’s act with determination, compassion, and urgency. Together, we can make a difference—one patient, one community, and one innovation at a time.