Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Ending Healthcare Disparities: An Urgent Priority and a Growing Possibility

Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Ending Healthcare Disparities: An Urgent Priority and a Growing Possibility

Article excerpt

In CATHOLIC HEALTHCARE, our primary goal is to protect the dignity and honor the needs of the people we serve. We strive to improve the health status of our communities and to reach out to those people who are marginalized, poor, and otherwise vulnerable.

The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), which I lead, and our member hospitals across the country work hard each day to understand and respond to the challenge of healthcare disparities. When people receive substandard care or experience poor health outcomes simply because they are minorities, our health system is failing. It is failing to provide quality care that is blind to racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic status. It is failing to meet the needs of millions of people.

As Joseph R. Betancourt, MD, and JoelT. Allison, FACHE, Cliff Fullerton, MD, and Adam Chabira describe in their articles, this health system failure also represents an opportunity. In learning how and why disparities occur, we can put in place systems to improve care delivery across all populations. In making our data work for us, we can analyze trends and identify the specific problems and communication gaps that create disparities in the first place.

Several important and common themes emerge from the two articles, and I am pleased to provide CHA's and my perspective on them. First, however, it is helpful to remind ourselves that the real shared theme is supporting healthy communities and populations. When anyone is marginalized, because of their race or their ability to pay or their geographic location, all of us have an interest in repairing the systemic problems at work.

For those of us in Catholic healthcare, such efforts sit at the core of our mission and directly influence our ability to carry out the healing mission of Jesus. We are compelled by our faith to care for everyone. Disparities threaten our ability to do that. Thankfully, however, we are not alone in our concern about this issue, and we work alongside many partners trying creatively to address the problem. Put simply, disparities matter to all stakeholderspatients, caregivers, educators, insurers, and government. All of us can be part of the problem and therefore must be part of the solution.

Disparities matter to Catholic and secular hospitals alike, to physicians and patients, to nurses and translators, to administrators and community health workers. Disparities matter to those who view the issue through the lenses of justice, human dignity, and compassion. And disparities matter to those looking out for a health system's bottom line. As Betancourt states in his article, "improving quality, addressing disparities, and achieving equity are no longer just the right things to do-they also are the smart things to do, given the new set of financial structures developed to drive quality and value."

So, whether one comes to disparities work because it fits with the organization's mission or because it helps achieve specific clinical, business, and financial objectives, we must commit to bringing all of our best energy and ideas to preventing uneven care based on race, gender, ethnicity, or any other factor over which people have no control. We must be careful and attentive in how we approach the fulfillment of this commitment-be courageous enough to ask the right questions and not be afraid of the answers. We must be innovative but structured, goal oriented but process driven. We must devote ourselves to finding the right set of solutions and persistent about implementing them.

Betancourt and Allison and colleagues provide an excellent starting point by highlighting and explaining the most important issues and recommending concrete steps to reduce the rate of disparities. Leadership buy-in represents one of the important factors. Without a commitment by senior executives and medical directors, the changes and actions required will simply not happen. Like any major initiative in business, leadership must embrace the issue if the organization is to make progress on it. …

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