INTELLIGENCE IN ACTION

Closing the Gaps in Healthcare Disparities

This week I had the honor of attending the 2021 Health Evolution Confab, which aims to gather passionate leaders committed to health and social impact. This year’s event focused on highlighting initiatives to address racial diversity in leadership to accelerate health equity.

Surescripts CEO Tom Skelton hosted the discussion “Spearheading Initiatives to Advance Equity,” with Carladenise Edwards, Ph.D., EVP, Chief Strategy Officer at Henry Ford Health System and J. Nwando Olayiwola, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Health Equity Officer at Humana.

“It’s clear that there’s a lot of work for us to do to not only address the disparities that we can see but the underlying conditions that lead to people being vulnerable.”

– Dr. J. Nwando Olayiowla, Humana

The panelists offered insights into how data can play a role in tackling health equity and how policy can provide more equitable care to diverse communities. “It’s clear that there’s a lot of work for us to do not only to address the disparities that we can see but the underlying conditions that lead to people being vulnerable,” Edwards explained.

Edwards and Olayiwola opened with a reflection on the pandemic making health disparities more visible—for some. “The health disparities we saw appear in COVID-19 did not surprise a lot of us who have been working in health disparities for decades,” Olayiwola explained.

The speakers discussed the numerous ways data and technology can play a role in tackling health equity. From unlocking the benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning to incentivizing collecting information on social determinants of health, technology and data can help design promising interventions, programs and services.

The Surescripts Network Alliance is doing some incredible work in achieving these visions. For example, we know that the costs of prescriptions can make the difference between a patient having access to drugs or not. Prescription price transparency is critical to lowering patients’ out-of-pocket costs preventing “sticker shock” at the pharmacy, which negatively impacts medication adherence and patient safety. Tools like Surescripts Real-Time Prescription Benefit can serve as a massive shift forward for patients to participate in their healthcare.

With that data comes the need for data quality, integrity, and privacy, which got me thinking about efforts to ensure prescriptions can be filled safely and accurately across the entire healthcare industry. At a recent gathering for our Critical Performance Improvement program, we talked about the need to improve patient directions in drugs with complex dosing regimens such as insulins. We know drugs like insulins are frequently cited as having unclear patient directions. This lack of clarity causes pharmacists to stop workflow which delays the time to fill – sometimes hours, sometimes days to ensure the medication is safely dispensed and the directions are clear to the patient. We also know that there are significant racial inequities when it comes to certain chronic illnesses like diabetes. In fact, Indigenous, Black, Asian and Hispanic Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and Indigenous, Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to die from it than their White counterparts. Clear, clinically accurate patient directions for medications are a small but critical way we can help ensure patients know exactly how to adhere to a complex medication regimen and do not face delays in receiving their prescription.

Finally, both leaders shared a mutual vision of a future where healthcare is led and informed by communities so that patient needs are understood, voices are heard and patients are empowered to participate in healthcare.

It’s a big vision and one worth following. I walked away humbled by the incredible work these leaders are tackling and even more inspired to support our purpose to serve the nation with the single most trusted and capable health information network.

Because when we say, “serve the nation,” we mean everyone.

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