Inequities in care delivery and patient outcomes is a moral issue that can impact the functioning and outcomes of hospitals and health systems. Health disparities in a provider’s patient population can result in legal risks, accreditation failures, lower quality and HCAHPS scores, avoidable utilization, and increased total cost of care. And damaged consumer confidence and brand equity.
Health disparities are typically the result of (1) inequitable care delivery and (2) the impact of unmet social needs. A diverse workforce and an inclusive culture are important first steps towards improving the equity in care delivery, but it’s not enough. All staff members must be able to care for all patients, but all staff members are at risk of relying on cognitive shortcuts in high stress situations. And even if staff do build trusting, patient-centered relationships, they can’t make much clinical headway if patients face non-clinical barriers to health, which can account for up to 50% of health outcomes.
The first step to offering equitable care to all patients is to engender organization-wide cultural humility. Culturally-responsive care builds trust with marginalized patients and enables care teams to meet a range of diverse and intersectional needs. Cultural humility requires an in-depth understanding of structural inequities and how they manifest in patient-provider relationships.
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