EY: While Nearly All Healthcare Companies Have a Health Equity Strategy, Most Are New

About 98% of healthcare companies have a health equity strategy, but nearly 60% initiated the strategy in just the last five years and 34% created it during the Covid-19 pandemic, a new survey from EY shows.

“[Health equity] is not a new issue,” said Susan Garfield, EY U.S. Chief Public Health Officer. “But what I think Covid did was create a collective experience and a collective dataset to prioritize health equity in a way that people couldn’t ignore it anymore. The disparate experiences of minority populations, people of color, people with comorbidities, in terms of Covid experience and outcomes was so striking.”

The EY Inaugural Health Equity Outlook Report was released Monday and included responses from 500 health equity leaders. These leaders came from providers, payers, public health organizations, life sciences companies and nonprofit and community organizations.

To tackle health equity initiatives, 58% of organizations said they have designated a chief health equity officer, while 21% said they gave the responsibilities to another executive leader and 20% said they created a health equity director. 

“That’s really reinforcing that this isn’t a peripheral issue,” Garfield said in an interview. “This is something of central and highest priority.”

When it comes to organizations’ top focus areas in health equity, 34% of respondents said healthcare access and quality, 33% said health equity strategy development and 28% said diversity and inclusion of employees. These top focus areas were largely consistent across the board no matter the type of healthcare organization. 

Still, there are several barriers organizations are facing in health equity. About 16% of organizations listed a “lack of common understanding or awareness of what health equity entails” as a barrier, and another 16% said a “lack of financial commitment.” However, there is some potential for companies to work together to tackle these issues, Garfield said.

“We are now in a period of incredible learning,” she stated. “Over the next year or two, I think we’re going to see more learnings shared among ecosystem participants, more collaborations to leverage initiatives and create synergies.”

One area Garfield listed as an opportunity for collaboration in health equity is in the data and analytics space. About 85% of organizations have a data and analytics strategy for health equity, and 89% have key performance indicators to help track progress. However, how data is being used varies by organization type. For example, public health groups are strong in collecting data to identify health disparities. Life sciences companies, meanwhile, are in a better position to use the data to inform strategic priorities, leaving room for these organizations to work together.

Garfield also said companies should be educating people within their organizations on what health equity is. Only 55% of companies provide education on health equity and disparities to their employees. Education for leadership is slightly more common, at 60%.

“It’s not something that you can just say ‘health equity’ and everyone hears the same meaning and understands the same priorities,” Garfield said. “Education is critical for alignment and to elevate the field.”

Photo: PeterPencil, Getty Images