Last month, the Essential Hospitals Engagement Network (EHEN), formerly the NAPH Safety Network, kicked off its health equity improvement work with a special webinar, “Achieving Equity in Care in the Safety Net.” The EHEN is the only Partnership for Patients (PfP) hospital engagement network (HEN) that is focusing exclusively on hospitals caring for the most vulnerable and diverse patients.

Background on disparities
Health disparities are population-specific differences in the presence of disease, health outcomes, care quality and access to care that exist across racial and ethnic groups. Disparities represent a lack of efficiency within the health care system and account for unnecessary costs.

The latest Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) National Healthcare Disparities Report shows that while quality is improving, disparities related to race and ethnicity continue to lag. For example, blacks received worse care than whites for 41 percent of quality measures, while Hispanics received worse care than non-Hispanic whites for 39 percent of measures.

Meanwhile, the importance of boosting health equity is increasing every day, as the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of minorities living in the U.S. will exceed the number of non-Hispanic whites as soon as 2043. Some states like California, New Mexico and Texas already have shifted to majority-minority populations.

Targeting disparities in the EHEN
One way to address disparities in care is by encouraging hospitals to collect and use race, ethnicity and language (REAL) data to identify gaps in care and inform improvement initiatives. The two guest speakers on our webinar discussed their hospital’s experience in ramping up and maintaining REAL data collection.

San Mateo Medical Center
During the EHEN webinar, Jonathan Mesinger, PhD, cultural competence leader, clinics manager at San Mateo Medical Center, discussed the challenges his organization faced when it initially began collecting REAL data. For example, the hospital struggled to achieve employee buy-in, which resulted in incomplete or inaccurate REAL data collection.

Mesinger also noted that adapting their technology to fit their REAL data collection needs was a challenge, and as a result, the hospital added detailed data fields to their system to collect more accurate REAL information for each patient.

According to Mesinger, the project would not have been a success without executive sponsors and including REAL data collection in the organization’s DSRIP goals to gain funding.

Truman Medical Centers
Meanwhile, Truman Medical Centers President and CEO John Bluford, MBA, emphasized a top-down approach to diversity. Organizational change starts with a commitment from upper management, includes physician engagement, and then reaches out to the engage the community. Bluford noted that diverse governance is important for high performance governance, especially when organizations are implementing disparities-related initiatives.

Truman Medical Centers has launched a specific health equity project by partnering with local billboard companies to create unique artwork and messaging on billboards. Imagery relays images of hospital services targeted to different racial communities. The billboards have been seen as the hospital establishing a connection with the different communities in the urban core of Kansas City. Truman also uses a score card to collect data and determine effective internal processes.

Across the next 6 months, the EHEN will continue to address health equity with its members. Our next disparities webinar titled, “Building Health Literacy: Essential Steps and Practical Solutions,” will be in September. We invite you to join us!