How to remedy health care disparities

May 10, 2018

Last week at our annual CEO and Trustee Patient Safety Summit, health care leaders from Washington, Oregon and Alaska heard from Dr. Joseph Betancourt, the founder and director of the Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. As an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a practicing internal medicine physician, he has expertise and experience in cross-cultural communication training for health care professionals. Dr. Betancourt presented on the development and implementation of strategies that advance policy and practice to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

Our members are at the forefront of reducing health disparities. It gives me hope and inspires me to see so many health care leaders committed to learning and changing practice as we create and test solutions. We often hear the acknowledgement that disparities exist, but with the candid admission of not knowing what to do about them.

We do know that quality is improved when we address health equity for racial and ethnic minorities, patients with limited English proficiency, sexual and gender minorities, and people with disabilities. How can we move toward solutions?

  • As leaders, communicate the importance of health equity. For instance, take the American Hospital Association’s #123forEquity pledge to show your commitment to this work.
  • Promote a culture of transparency and improvement by leveraging technology to measure and report on indicators of health equity and quality.
  • Aim to have diversity within your leadership that reflects the diversity of the communities that you serve.
  • React to and provide advice on internal and external policy and regulation.

These are high-level strategies we can all apply in our daily work. How? Leadership quality and safety rounds can include targeted questions regarding patients with limited English proficiency, for example. Training to improve the comfort of both patients and health care registrars in collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data is another step forward.

These are only two of many more examples of how to move toward health equity, and we look forward to partnering with our members on this essential component of quality.

I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss this further. The quality and patient safety team at WSHA is here to support your success.


Jennifer Graves
WSHA Senior Vice President of Quality & Safety


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