More than 80% of C-suite executives from healthcare and life sciences organizations see improved health equity as a top-10 goal for 2024, a recent report by Deloitte found.
The report offered a 2024 outlook for health equity across the two industries and relied on data from a survey conducted by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. The survey reached 53 health equity leaders and 121 healthcare and life sciences executives.
Deloitte defines health equity as the fair and just opportunity for all to achieve their full potential in every aspect of their health, regardless of who they are or where they are from.
The report found that nearly 50% of respondents expect to increase equity investments next year.
Realizing ROI from high-quality care requires intentional strategy and time, the report said. Short-term, these investments could lead to better recruitment, retention or operations. Long-term, health equity could positively impact every aspect of business.
“Health equity is not just a moral imperative, it’s an economic imperative,” Jay Bhatt, managing director of Deloitte Center for Health Solutions and Deloitte Health Equity Institute, told Fierce Healthcare. To do this work, organizations must move from simply corporate philanthropy to an enterprise-wide strategy, Bhatt added.
To understand disparities, organizations need to be looking at their data and asking questions. “You’re not going to ask those if it’s a side gig or a side hustle,” Bhatt said.
More than half of surveyed health equity leaders expect regulatory pressure to be a driving force in their strategy next year. There are numerous White House initiatives from the Biden administration focused on equity, and the Joint Commission has a new leadership standard on collecting race and ethnicity data, per the report. At the same time, more than 40 states have introduced initiatives to address disparities.
Nearly half of respondents also said they expected an increased focus on patient engagement and outcomes as another driving force for health equity efforts.
At the same time, surveyed leaders anticipate some headwinds in 2024: limited resources, competing priorities and margin pressures. Setting goals could help overcome these challenges, the report said. More than half of respondents said having a well-defined way to measure and evaluate health equity was a strategic priority.
The report identified five potential areas driving health equity forward:
Artificial intelligence: Executives should ensure AI is not creating unintended biases. More than 80% of surveyed health equity leaders said they have low or no involvement in decision-making processes for their organization’s AI strategy. “Health equity moves at the speed of trust,” Bhatt said. Trustworthy and ethical tech development is critical. Thus, leaders need to be at the table, involved in decisions being made about AI.
Community engagement and clinical trials: Of those surveyed, 60% said increasing community engagement and collaboration is their top priority for 2024. More than four in 10 community health centers are conducting or interested in conducting clinical trials in the future. Forging strong ties with these community health centers could help biopharma companies improve their clinical trial diversity.
Workforce: Nearly 40% of surveyed health equity leaders said they expect workforce recruitment, retention and burnout to be a major challenge in 2024, and that workforce well-being will be a priority in 2024. Organizations might consider expanding recruitment efforts to their communities, the report said. Focusing on the health of employees could also improve retention and reduce burnout.
Ecosystem collaborations: Some health equity leaders are prioritizing collaborations with key players, the survey found. There is potential to bring the public and private sector together, the report said. Optimizing resources across organizations, with interdisciplinary groups, could help efficiently scale change.
Research capabilities: More than half of surveyed equity leaders said their research strategy is a high priority for 2024. The importance of reliable data and accurate measurements is likely to grow as organizations prioritize health equity as a core function, per the report. Strengthening data quality, community engagement and multi-sectoral collaborations might facilitate key sector outcomes. A few of the biggest challenges identified by leaders include outdated data infrastructures, data standardization or interoperability challenges and limited collaboration and data sharing.
“Being a health equity leader can be a lonely job, but it doesn’t have to be,” the report concluded.
As organizations lean into health equity, Deloitte expects more patients to experience better outcomes, which could have a dramatic effect on overall health spending.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck, integrated approach and I think health equity is everyone’s business,” Bhatt said.