- The Joint Commission is advising providers to proactively collect data to better identify disparities and inequities in their care, among other measures, as the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the U.S. system's failings in that area.
- Training staff on implicit bias, providing medical interpreters for patients of different cultures, using communication platforms beyond the telephone and tapping trusted community voices such as clergy are among actions it suggests in a safety bulletin published Tuesday.
- The accrediting body noted it already has "several standards and requirements that promote health equity," related to nondiscrimination, data collection on race, ethnicity and preferred language as well as health literacy and patients' preferred communication.
Multiple studies show people of color in the U.S. are suffering more from the pandemic, including higher rates of infection, severe illness and death. As the Joint Commission notes, the crisis has only put a spotlight on disparities that already existed in the country's healthcare infrastructure.
As vaccine rollouts continue, public trust in healthcare systems and providers has been highlighted as communities historically marginalized and taken advantage of by health officials have shown hesitancy to receive the shot.
Research has shown that people trust their personal providers the most when it comes to information about the vaccine, so the Commission's suggestions could help doctors, nurses and health leaders effectively communicate and improve equity in distribution and other health issues.
The bulletin lists a number of measures providers can take to improve equity in care. Several of them involve engaging the community, its social services and all the patient populations the providers encounter.
It also proposed increased access for vulnerable populations and states: "Be sensitive to the fact that many persons of color feel disrespected by health care workers, which augments the sense of distrust."
Another health infrastructure problem exposed during the COVID-19 crisis has been data gathering and reporting.
Part of the difficulty with the vaccine rollouts has been lack of data on need, and interoperability obstacles to getting the information to relevant government agencies.
Data to help ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine has been particularly lacking.
But multiple organizations and President Joe Biden's administration have been emphasizing the importance of getting the vaccine to all populations, and especially those that typically have difficulty accessing healthcare services.
On Wednesday, Biden's COVID-19 team released the names of 13 people who will form a task force focused on equitable COVID-19 healthcare, including the CEO of a community hospital in Indiana and the president of the Minnesota Nurses Association union.
Biden's COVID-19 equity task force chair, Marcella Nunez-Smith, said during a press conference Wednesday the administration is looking more closely at the best ways to distribute the vaccine. "Beating this pandemic is hard work. And beating this pandemic while making sure that everyone in every community has a fair chance to stay safe or to regain their health, well, that's the hard work done the right way," Nunez-Smith said.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently released a plan for meeting that goal, including calls for significant investment and involvement of communities with people of color and more targeted communication efforts.
"Immediate efforts to ensure that historically underserved populations receive the benefits of life-sustaining vaccines can propel an even broader, more enduring — and also urgent — process of social reparation and improvement for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities in the United States," according to that report.
Health systems have become more active in efforts to combat social inequities amid the pandemic and racial and social justice movements that snowballed last summer. While health system efforts to affect social determinants of health have been questioned, there's little doubt health leaders are becoming more aware of the need to address inequities in the system.
This week's notice from the Joint Commission is the second addressing key issues for the U.S. health system during the pandemic. Last week, it focused on concerns of burnout among providers.