The concept of health disparity is nothing new – for too long, various social determinants have unfairly kept certain populations from receiving quality healthcare.
Health disparities are directly related to the unequal distribution of social, political, economic, and environmental resources, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and they have significant impacts on patients’ health outcomes.
Disparities come in many forms: economic stability, physical environment, education, access to food, available support systems within communities and, of course, access to quality healthcare. There’s a huge connection between people’s health outcomes and their access to primary care providers, health insurance, and health literacy.
White individuals are more likely to have health insurance than their Black, Hispanic, and indigenous counterparts, for instance. In 2019, about 8% of whites were uninsured, compared with 11% of Blacks, 20% of Hispanics, and 22% of indigenous people, research shows.
But health disparities aren’t just racial. Low-income individuals, people who live in rural areas, and LGBTQ people experience health challenges at disproportionate rates, too.
Reducing disparities and making healthcare more equitable must start with addressing these social determinants of health. So why aren’t health plans and providers doing more to tackle problems and gaps head-on?
A complicated challenge
Many insurers and providers want to strive toward equity in healthcare but doing so presents various challenges.
Outreach to certain populations is difficult, which makes it hard to get a true sense of where disparities exist and how widespread they are. Patients face many obstacles when it comes to receiving care – geographic and financial ones, among others – and most payers and providers lack the actionable data they need to assess these gaps work to eliminate them.
Tools like telehealth can play a major role in increasing health equity but, to make real progress, healthcare organizations need to reframe how they’re thinking about the topic – and how they can work with their communities to enact real change.
These three customer experience tools can help.
1. Data analytics
Do you even know where your gaps are when it comes to health equity? Chances are, you don’t. Many healthcare organizations don’t have a true handle on where disparities exist, or how big a problem they are, because they don’t have (or aren’t looking at) the right data.
It’s always smart to invest in data. You can’t find the right solutions to address a disparity gap when you don’t know exactly what, and how big, that gap is. Data analytics are key to really understanding the populations you serve, where disparities are cropping up, and what can be done about them.
The right analytics will give you actionable insights you can use to inform business decision making. How can you better reach, engage, and provide care to various populations? The answers are in the data. Don’t waste time and resources guessing where problems are occurring, and how to best solve them, when data can give you a real-time view of what’s really happening. This means you need the right tools to collect the right data, and the know-how to interpret that data in a meaningful way.
First, take stock of what data is available to your organization. Is it enough? Is it useful? Then, assess how you’re using that data. Are you using it to its full potential? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it’s time to invest in better analytics.
2. A strong outbound outreach strategy
Once you identify what your member or patient base really looks like, and where there are gaps or disparities, you need a strategic outreach plan to engage with them. This is the only way to ensure members or patients know about and are using the services you’re offering them.
There are so many touchpoints along the patient and member journeys when the right outreach can have a strong impact – during things like preliminary screenings, appointment scheduling, and transportation assistance on the provider side; and eligibility screening and new account setup on the payer side, among others.
It’s not enough to just have a clear vision of what you want your outreach to convey and how you want it to work – you need people with the right skillset to reach out to patients and members, especially those who may be hard to reach through more-traditional channels. Even the most compelling message won’t resonate with your target audience if it isn’t reaching them. Outreach needs to be tailored to people’s preferred communication channel.
Highly skilled associates are key pieces to this puzzle, but training shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all model. Different outreach channels – phone, messaging, email, and others – require different skillsets. People who excel at voice outreach, for instance, might not have the right skillset to succeed in digital channels.
Once you’ve got the right people in place, empower them with technology that makes it easier to perform their jobs well, like intelligent automation. That includes back-office automation that takes repetitive, menial tasks off employees’ plates, freeing them up to focus on more meaningful outreach and interactions. Speech analytics software is another great way companies can analyze interactions so you can improve customer insights.
These types of tools help you gather key business intelligence, typically at a lower total cost. It’s a win-win.
3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion bots
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) aren’t just buzzwords in the healthcare sphere; they’re critical to identifying what’s happening within your member or patient populations.
AI-powered DEI bots are powerful tools that can help associates have more-meaningful interactions with patients or members. They also offer valuable insights into your own organization’s diverse demographics.
Give employees real-time training by letting them have practice conversations about sensitive social topics with an AI-powered “person.” This type of tool is a win-win: not only can it help associates improve their outreach efforts to diverse communities, it also will lead to a more inclusive atmosphere within your organization.
It can seem daunting to tackle a systemic problem like health disparity, and health equity may seem like an elusive goal. But healthcare payers and providers should be playing a more active role in making things better. And you don’t have to do it alone.
Investing in the right CX strategies now can pay huge dividends – for your organization and your community – well into the future.