Understand how we got here — and how to move forward.


June 25, 2020

The first step to meeting Black patients' social needs? Get their input.

Daily Briefing

    Recent events—including instances of police violence and racial inequities in Covid-19 outcomes— have shed light on structural racism in the U.S. In addition to recognizing longstanding inequities, many health care organizations are ramping up their community-based interventions to address social needs that Black patients may face as a result of structural racism, such as food insecurity, poverty, and lack of transportation.

    Download 10 tools for prioritizing community health interventions

    But often, these organizations are encountering an obstacle right out of the gate: They lack consistent data and qualitative input on top social needs from Black patients and stakeholders.

    If they fail to address this gap in information, these organizations' plans will proceed without any true understanding of Black patients' priorities—and as a result, many of their well-intentioned efforts won’t address long-standing racial inequities.

    2 ways to better understand Black patients' social needs

    To help your organization avoid that outcome, here are two key steps you can take to understand Black patients' social needs and successfully implement long-term solutions. 

    1. Use past CHNA data to identify inequities that Black patients experience

    If your organization has recently conducted a community health needs assessment (CHNA), now is a good time to go back and examine your data by race to surface and prioritize issues that disproportionately affect Black patients. 

    If you aren't sure which data points to examine first, here are four social needs we know have clear effects on health outcomes:

    • Housing instability;
    • Food insecurity;
    • Economic insecurity; and
    • Social isolation.

    2.  Gather qualitative input from Black patients and community leaders 

    The data from a CHNA may not give you all the information needed. Supplement that quantitative data with qualitative insight. You can collect this information through targeted information surveys, community forums, and/or virtual interviews with stakeholders who have firsthand knowledge of the needs in their community.

    Prioritize input from Black community members and organizations that are run by and serve the communities where you want to target your interventions, such as school systems, religious organizations, and community health centers that serve historically marginalized populations. Just remember to play a supporting role when these other groups are better positioned to lead. You can use Advisory Board's qualitative data pick list and sample survey tools to design your outreach approach.

    If you're collecting qualitative feedback from a potential future partner, proactively get their input on how they would like your organization to address racial inequities. Community organizations should have a permanent seat at the table to identify root causes, help build initiatives, and make investment decisions.

    Demonstrate your commitment to new community partners

    After you've identified Black patients' top social needs, commit to long-term community involvement. Sporadic and short-term efforts are unlikely to produce meaningful results and could harm community trust. Set expectations around the role your organization will play in the partnership, specific goals, and each partner's responsibilities. 

    One way to build a mutually agreed-upon framework is to develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU). Both parties can sign onto the MOU to define roles, outline each partner's responsibilities, and ensure clear operational structures for decision-making.

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