By Naprisha Taylor
In the past year, the health care sector achieved one of the most incredible feats of modern medicine – and it owes the achievement to the pointed inclusion of diverse perspectives.
With the collaboration and coordination worldwide to develop a vaccine in the global fight against COVID-19, researchers, companies from across the industry, and governments from across the world came together to take on a viral pandemic. The inclusion of multiple perspectives enabled the reenergizing of mRNA research strategies that had been relegated by some to backwater status. Thanks to this mix of voices, talents and capabilities, we were able to create a safe and effective vaccine on a timeline that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago.
International collaboration yields the greatest impact on health innovation by bringing to the table diverse perspectives. Simply put – more perspectives, more insights, more realizations of more opportunities for more people, and most importantly, fewer people left behind.
Domestically, however, health care companies have a lot of work to do on diversity. One can only imagine what the industry could accomplish if strong U.S. companies better reflected the diversity of its population.
We’ve reached the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder – the tragedy that spurred racial activism nationwide. The civil unrest and protests against racial injustice, combined with the deadly pandemic, a contentious election and total economic upheaval created an all-out assault on civil rights and community togetherness from all angles. Those events have also brought new focus to systematic inequities, hidden truths of our past, and stark realities of our present. With that attention to those inequities and truths, there is no better time for health care companies to reflect on their own efforts to promote representation of diverse talent at all levels.
In the U.S., minority groups remain significantly underrepresented in health care. For example, only 0.4% of U.S. medical doctors identify as Hispanic or Latino, even though this group makes up 17% of the U.S. population, and only 4% of U.S. medical doctors identify as African American, even though this group makes up 13% of the U.S. population.
These gaps in representation are not only unacceptable in terms of corporate responsibility but are a disservice to those we serve. Representation gaps create gaps in care. Diverse perspectives improve problem solving and understanding of the unique challenges of typically underrepresented groups, allowing physicians to better address health disparities and conditions that may present differently among different genders, age groups, and backgrounds. It was only last fall when a 20-year-old medical student in London called out that skin diseases present differently on different colored skin. And while it’s understandable for some populations to distrust medical professionals, concerns about historic mistreatment by the medical industry can be reduced by contact with physicians who are a part of their own racial or ethnic communities.
The medical community must be able to build patient trust and increase communication about health needs from physicians that come from similar backgrounds or at least better understand how to address the needs of patients who are adversely impacted by social determinants of health and may lack confidence in the health care system. The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted minority communities – for example, African American persons accounted for 18.7% of overall deaths from COVID-19 and Hispanic persons accounted for 24.2% – and proved the urgent need to deliver health care differently.
Diversity is a crucial part of building a health care system that is innovative, efficient, patient-centered and cost-effective, and U.S. health care organizations must prepare to mirror the collaboration we are witnessing globally in order to reach health equity domestically. Not only are these diverse teams important for patient relationships, but studies have consistently shown that organizations with diverse teams have stronger innovation and team communications, as well as improved risk assessment and financial performance.
Evolent Health has begun taking its own steps toward improving diverse representation by releasing its third Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Annual Report. In this report, we are confronting the gaps in representation in our own organization by benchmarking our current progress and setting ambitious goals on how we can do better. A few of our accomplishments from this past year include: increasing representation of minorities in leadership from 25% in 2018 to 28% in 2020; gaining momentum around minority hires – nearly two-thirds (61%) in 2020; and, earning a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index.
While we’re proud of our progress over the past five years, we recognize that we still have work to do. So, in the coming years, we are focused on fortifying our current pipeline among underrepresented minority groups by increasing racial diversity on our board of directors and management teams, bolstering our retention strategies in the U.S. and globally and working with our partners to weave DE&I into our offerings and value prop.
Although the global health care system has seen the benefits of diversity and collaboration, domestically, health care organizations continue to lag behind – which affects both care quality and patient relationships. Health care organizations must commit to improving representation of diverse talent, confronting the gaps in representation at their own organizations, and set measurable goals to hold themselves accountable. This is how we can reach true health equity and improve the quality of care we provide.
Naprisha Taylor is Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Evolent Health.