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Securing health equity for all

This piece first appeared on the blog for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The theme of this year’s MEDiversity Week is “Securing Health Equity for All.”  Chosen by the MEDiversity committee, to align with the University of Utah Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion health equity strategic pillar of the same name, this year’s theme feels doubly appropriate.

Health equity is tied to healthcare outcomes and the comparison of those outcomes for different patient groups.  For example, we know that when men go to the emergency room with chest pain, they are more likely to get a cardiac work up and have their heart issue identified and treated. But women of the same age, heart history, risk factors and symptoms are less likely to receive this care. Researchers are trying to identify all the reasons for this inequity, but unconscious misogyny and sexism likely play a significant role in these interactions. Similar disparities are evident in other health care settings and situations.  For example, we know that Black birthing parents have higher mortality rates, as well as higher infant mortality rates than birthing parents from other races.  While we do not know all causes for the inequity, we do know that racism and sexism affect health outcomes across a broad spectrum of situations in healthcare.

In many cases in the United States, patients who identify as White have the best health outcomes.  However, there are many situations where health outcomes of other groups are better than those of White patients.  One example of this is life expectancy, where the group with the highest life expectancy in the United States is Latinas, at 83.3 years. Health equity research is designed to find those groups with the best health outcomes and then seek to ensure that all other groups reach that same result. Researchers, providers, healthcare workers, and political leaders all have a role to play in securing health equity for all.

Here in Utah, we are just beginning to discover the health inequities that exist among our different patient populations. Our preliminary data suggests that, at best, the well-documented health inequities present nationwide exist here as well. This has created an opportunity for us to use our health care training to achieve better outcomes for all.  And it is for this reason that we have chosen “Securing Health Equity for All” as our 2022 theme.  As we will hear repeatedly during the week, health inequities hurt all of us—but the elimination of those disparities can benefit us all, regardless of our racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual identities.

This week, leaders from across the University of Utah Health and the nation will address us.  Dr. Evan Adams, Chief Deputy Medical Officer for the First Nations & Inuit Health Branch, Indigenous Services Canada will give a lecture on indigenous health and the efforts underway to address health inequities affecting the First Nations communities of Canada. His presentation will provide us with new context and perspective on the health inequities that our American Indian/Alaska Native patients now face.

Two other presentations will examine issues affected by recent judicial and legislative action. The recent Dobbs decision from the United States Supreme Court has once again brought reproductive justice to the forefront of our conversations.  Dr. Holly Sharp and Dr. Amanda Bakian (Co-chairs of Women in Health Medicine and Science) will moderate a webinar entitled “Connecting Reproductive Rights & Justice to Health Equity,” with Dr. Michelle Debbink, M.D., Ph.D. and Dr. Lori Gawron, M.D., M.P.H. And on the intersection of politics and health, we will have an address by Professor Daniel Dawes J.D., executive director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, professor of health law and policy at Morehouse School of Medicine, and the author of the book “Political Determinants of Health.”  His presentation will be livestreamed from the Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.

The culminating event of MEDiversity Week is our Friday Forum, a virtual event that will feature three health equity leaders. In addition to Professor Dawes, Dr. Bonzo Reddick, Chair of Community Medicine at Mercer University Savannah, GA, and Dr. Gita Suneja, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology here at University of Utah Health will join us to discuss health inequities, the research behind them, and what is being done on a local and national scale to address them. Each presenter is nationally known for their work in this sphere, and together we hope to identify next steps in our efforts to eliminate health inequities. We are fortunate to have these experts among us.

As the associate vice president for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the University of Utah and a practicing physician, I appreciate the importance of bringing together the broader medical community and diversity in our MEDiversity work. But I also look at MEDiversity as the combination of “ME” and “Diversity.”  For me this means that no matter what our individual identities may be, we all play a role in the diversity of this campus and contribute to it.  It is my sincere hope that each of us understands that we have a vital part to play in this work.  And most importantly, I hope that we can recognize that diversity is the intermediate outcome that will assist us in our goal of securing health equity for all.

October 31 – November 4

MEDiversity week: Securing health equity for all

This year’s MEDiversity Week will explore how we can develop policies, practices, and programs that move us closer to the goal of eliminating health disparities. Throughout the week, events and discussions will focus on attaining equitable health outcomes for all patients, with an emphasis on those from historically marginalized populations. MEDiversity Week events will take a broad approach with the goal of dismantling bias in order to secure health equity for all.