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It’s Time for Research to Play a Bigger Role in Health Care Equity

February is Black History Month, and the theme for 2022 focuses on Black health and wellness, as determined by the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH).

According to ASALH President, Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, this year’s theme couldn’t be more appropriate. “Almost one million Americans have died during the pandemic, with African Americans suffering disproportionately from COVID-19 – more than any other group,” he said in his 2022 presidential address.

Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) supports that statement, showing that Black Americans have died from COVID-19 at 1.4 times the rate of White Americans.

Throughout history, health care in the Black community is filled with disparities in access, treatment, and outcomes as compared to other groups. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health newsletter article, Health Disparities Between Blacks and Whites Run Deep, “…blacks have a higher rate of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease than other groups, and black children have a 500% higher death rate from asthma compared with white children.”

Many in the health care segment agree that improving health and health care nationwide requires a focus on equity across race, ethnicity and religion – especially as the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse.

According to a recent study conducted by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), titled Health Equity: Prioritization, Perception and Progress, the topic of health equity ranked a very close second to safety in the top three priorities of the over 500 health care professionals polled. (Health equity actually rose 33 percentage points in importance between 2019 and 2020.)

The study also asked respondents to identify barriers to health equity, with a top answer being inconsistent collection of equity-related patient data.

Results also showed that survey participants are pursuing numerous activities to capture patient data that encompasses race, ethnicity, ancestry, language, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

In the face of this growing need, how can we, as researchers, ensure diverse and representative data is being collected? How do we identify structural barriers that may exist within the health care system? How do we make sure we’re developing cultural intelligence and hearing all voices?

At KJT, we believe the demand for inclusive research will be far greater in 2022 than it has ever been before, due in part to the pandemic, which gave us a deeper understanding of the widespread health care inequities that persist across our country.

That’s why KJT will be launching two committees this year focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI): a DEI in Research Committee, to ensure traditionally underrepresented voices are heard in our research helping the industry drive to improved access and quality of healthcare for all, and a second committee focused on DEI at KJT to ensure we maintain and promote an inclusive work environment.

These committees will be working hard in a variety of ways to advance health equity and diversity in our work, with initiatives such as:

  • Integrating health equity into our research design and language, ensuring our research is inclusive and culturally sensitive. This includes focusing on exploring systematic barriers that may limit access to participation in research, ensuring a diversity of perspectives is present in our KJT teams and in our research results, and ensuring that all individuals (our team and research respondents) are valued and respected for their contributions.
  • Incorporating social determinants of health (SDH) metrics into our research, which according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) now include access to primary care, alongside housing quality, access to healthy food, and education. NIH studies have shown that in under-represented populations, decreased access to preventive care and treatment for chronic conditions result in increased emergency room visits, graver health outcomes, and increased likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and mental illness.
  • A commitment to engaging under-represented communities in our studies to understand how to best meet the needs of diverse populations. This includes seeking external partners that share this same commitment to enabling representation in our sample design.  KJT has upped our commitment in 2022 to providing research evidence that reflects the diversity of the general population, taking attributes like gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and age into consideration in our research design.
  • Identifying and overcoming barriers to participation in research studies, such as cultural and linguistic differences. By increasing our understanding of influencing factors in under-represented populations, we can improve our project designs to help participants from diverse groups engage.
  • Incorporating cultural competency and diversity within our own corporate culture at KJT, with a focus on education, awareness, training and hiring.

Many things have changed in health care over the last 24 months that have amplified the need for more inclusive research. Something that will never change is KJT’s commitment to supporting our clients’ mission to improve health for all. Watch this space as KJT shares its learnings on health care equity into the future!