The future of health equity through connected healthcare operations

March 28, 2024

Safer, more empathic healthcare is a vision worth striving for, but as RLDatix Chief Patient Safety and Risk Officer Tim McDonald said during ACHE 2024 Congress on Healthcare Leadership, “There’s a flaw in the system.” 

McDonald and his co-presenters at ACHE Congress — Jared Capouya, Chief Quality, Safety and Analytics Officer at Nemours Children’s Health, and Martin Hatlie, President & CEO of Project Patient Care — discussed opportunities for care teams to better assess health equity within their organizations through connected healthcare operations (CHO). 

A connected healthcare operations system brings together operational processes and standardized data to provide care teams and leaders with actionable insights and analytics in real-time. The result is improved decision-making that reduces risk, prevents harm and improves quality and outcomes across the organization.  

“We have a moral, ethical and legal obligation to address health inequities, and since the issue is systemic, our systems are the best place to start,” McDonald said. 

Outlining what this means for healthcare professionals and organizations, McDonald and his co-presenters showcased The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) recent Patient Safety Structural Measure (PSSM) and how this strategic initiative to assess hospital and clinician performance will foster more equitable operations, outcomes and innovation across the industry. 

“CMS’s efforts align directly with RLDatix’s vision for the future of connected healthcare operations,” McDonald said. “With the right information in the right place, at the right time and with the right tools, we can create more equitable organizational cultures so that all professionals understand how both personal and systemic implicit biases impact patient care." 

Hatlie, who also served as a technical expert advisor for the PSSM, added, “Hard data and shared learnings will be central to collective success. The measure presents a path forward for connecting otherwise disparate systems and players within the industry through more standardized definitions and reporting.” 

Examples of such data include cross-functional and cross-industry metrics to measure correlations between feedback, harm events, patient outcomes and identity-based factors for both patients and care teams. The proposed approach will also provide organizations with the insights and agility needed to address systemic shortfalls across areas like governance, incident reporting, compliance and workforce management — all of which can contribute to inequitable care. In practice, CHO systems will enable care teams to foster innovation and break down existing silos to improve accuracy, efficiency and safety for all. 

While addressing the current landscape, presenters stressed that disparities in care outcomes are not limited to a single demographic, and they contribute to several trends that pervade our healthcare ecosystem: 

  • Lower reported care quality for Black, American Indian and Alaskan Native patients when compared to White patients. 

  • Increased risk of poor access, screening quality and patient-physician interactions for patients speaking limited English.  

  • Care avoidance among LGBTQ+ patients who fear discrimination — exacerbated by over 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that threaten to impact outcomes and accessibility.  

  • The possibility of fewer options, treatment delays and misaligned treatment levels for patients with disabilities.  

  • Socioeconomic inequities and financial strain hindering healthcare access and leading to worsened outcomes.  

  • A heightened risk associated with overall care and post-treatment plans for an aging U.S. patient population.

  • Reduced access to care related to reproductive health for female patients across the U.S. and an increased likelihood of female healthcare professionals experiencing some kind of violence in the workplace. 

“These examples are non-exhaustive, but they shed light on the extensive cultural and operational work that needs to be done,” McDonald said. 

Capouya agreed. “If we can partner effectively as an industry, we will be able to further identify disparities, which will lead to more rapid development of scalable solutions for strategic efforts and day-to-day care,” he said. “By sharing these learnings, we’ll better equip teams with evidence-based practices and population-level insights so that they can drive innovation and create proactive tools to prevent harm before it happens." 

This will require significant and tangible shifts in how staff conduct even routine processes, such as intake and discharge, but the benefits of leveraging connected healthcare operations to deliver more equitable care will be well worth the investment. 

"Building a more connected healthcare ecosystem will ultimately allow us to efficiently and effectively identify and address harm events rooted in disparities and bias, reduce the emotional and administrative burdens placed upon our healthcare professionals, generate more actionable data, achieve high reliability and deliver on our collective missions of pursuing zero preventable harm,” McDonald said. 

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