Over the past few years, as our collective understanding of racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic disparities has entered the mainstream, the call for equitable care has moved from obscure to practically de rigeur. Advocating for greater health equity is now on the agenda of every self-respecting healthcare institution. Speaking as a Black woman in health science, I’ve found it heartening to see such commitment to doing the work.
However, now comes the hard part. What exactly is the work?
After more than a decade in R&D, problem-solving is at the heart of everything I do — and I’ve seen countless “solutions” fail because they failed to properly define the problem at the outset. If we agree that our desired outcome is to reduce healthcare inequities in meaningful ways, what next steps do we take to get there? Unfortunately, there are no simple answers. With so many systemic barriers to contend with, many well-meaning advocates are stumped as to where to even begin.
One admirable way the field has tried to get its arms around the problem is through unprecedented amounts of data collection. From medical records to device monitoring inputs to the latest evolving clinical science, we are now armed with more information about disparities than ever. That’s a good thing. However, we also now have access to more raw data about disparities than anyone currently knows what to do with. Therein lies the challenge — and, perhaps, the part of the solution that industry can provide.
The hunt for meaningful insight
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the glut of healthcare data. In my work , I’ve heard dozens of healthcare providers complain that the work of sorting through reams of disorganized numbers in search of a useful insight feels like another full-time job, taking precious time away from treating patients. One hospital I worked with, for example, was hoping to discover why the racial disparities in interventional heart care were occurring in their system. “This community is diverse, but over two years here, I have only treated a few Black patients,” one clinician told me. But they had no way to figure out what exactly was occurring, how to bring this issue forward, and what to do about it.
I think this may be where industry has a hidden superpower: finding that needle of insight within the haystack of healthcare data.
Medical technology companies and manufacturers are experts in generating and interpreting the massive quantities of research that shapes new devices and therapies. We are well-positioned to build robust datasets on patients across the disease states we serve. Using those datasets, we can then assess gaps in care in specific geographies by disease state and procedure, along with patients’ perceived barriers in accessing care and preferred communication methods.
When we isolate the right data, we can start to see a clearer picture of both the patient populations that are falling through the cracks and better understand how to reach them. In that way, the next steps toward meaningful change begin coming into view.
Finding the patients missing care
In the case of the clinician above, my team was able to provide disparity data that looked at the burden of disease at the national and local levels and compared that to the rate of minimally invasive interventions in the hospital. This comparison revealed the disparity in care based on race and gender. The clinician used these data to raise the issue with leadership at the hospital. I’m pleased to say that in response to the disparity data, the hospital has assembled a well-resourced team and adopted best practices we recommend to create strategies that could help reduce these disparities over the next 18 months.
What encourages me most in my work today is this precise ability to harness the medtech industry’s power to dive deeper into the problem of health inequity, in order to uncover logical solutions. Though the insights we’re able to surface about the healthcare gap can be distressing, I find it immensely satisfying to distill the data into something usable and get it into the hands of healthcare providers. In doing so, we’re helping them to make more targeted, impactful decisions to help make meaningful changes in patient care.