Many of us who have been screaming for health justice are people of color, people from diverse backgrounds and/or people that have dedicated their entire career in improving public health. The problem we face as innovators and/or activists in our fight for health equity is a lack of support from provider systems, payer systems, digital health investors and incubators etc.
I recently spoke with a mentor of mine, a black woman, medical doctor and angel investor who shared similar experience as I have. The conversation made me to realize I’m not the only one that’s having to educate groups of people who can’t relate to the issues of bias or discrimination or a lack of access to healthcare.
Imagine, for a second, that you are using your voice to fight for equal access for all. For all people to be treated as human beings and not second class citizens because they have been chronically ill their entire lives, are lower income, colored or gender nonconforming, etc.
Now imagine being told that those issues related to discrimination, racism in healthcare is not a “big enough market” or that you need more “traction” despite the fact that companies are being funded for “napkin” ideas.
Now fast forward: we’re living through a public health crisis that’s impacting black and brown communities, lower income folks, and the elderly at alarming rates. Added to the fact that we’re on the verge of a civil war, induced by the murder of a black man in broad daylight.
My question to industry leaders is “when do you begin to reevaluate your mindset around marginalized communities and the urgency to prioritize their voice over your bottom line?
Each time I come across George Floyd’s name I see his face on the ground, a man’s knee on his neck and a system that fosters racism. It is everything I stand against and work towards dismantling. And, I am not alone below are a few innovators working towards health justice.
Kevin Dedner, MPH Founder & CEO Henry Health
In April of 2019, Kevin shared:
Black men have a lower life expectancy than any population. When we start to unpack that, what we begin to understand is that the driver of that is unmanaged stress and unmanaged mental health issues. It was the George Zimmerman verdict that literally gave me a bad headache.
After my headache finally went away I started to think about the stress associated with being a black man. After diving into the literature I came to the conclusion that unmanaged stress is a silent killer for black men.
To watch more click here and here for the two-part discussion.
Ivelyse Andino, CEO, Radical Health
At the HLTH conference (2019), Ivelyse shared:
I think it’s a responsibility of the system at large to make space and be inclusive, not just from the DNI perspective, but actual longevity and making more space for inclusion and diversity. Inequities happen from a systemic level.
For example, who has access to health care, who can wait, how long have to wait for a provider visit, to even the microaggressions, i.e., how often at the provider levels, does one encounter both micro aggressions, but also direct aggression?
Derrick Reyes CEO & Co-founder of Queerly Health
In June of 2019, Reyes shared:
“We have to call things by their names. Addressing stigma whether it’s in the healthcare industry or any industry at all, we see a near future where all healthcare settings are going to be LGBTQ inclusive. We cannot speak like that (discriminatory), we can’t see that future unless we know that right now there’s a stigma that needs addressing.
It’s important to address the injustices and prejudices that people have to face, that eventually leads to inadequacies in industries like the healthcare industry, when it comes to LGBTQ people.
View the entire discussion by clicking here.
I founded Patient Orator to bring awareness to health inequities and poor patient experience and furthermore bridge those gaps using technology. My "why" has always been rooted in witnessing and experiencing the many inefficiencies of the healthcare system from the frontlines of care delivery.
Despite being educated, experienced and knowledgeable on the problem I’m solving for, I’m overlooked.
Statistically speaking, black women are one of the most underfunded groups of entrepreneurs, only receiving a fraction of the 2% of VC funding that women receive (source: CNBC). To be clear, at Patient Orator, we have built the technological infrastructure to help bridge disparity gaps.
Yes, we are “early,” but it is now the responsibility of the system and various stakeholders to take accountability for poor health outcomes.
The photo above was taken in protest of health disparities during JPM conference 2020. It is important to note that as a black female founder I felt completely unheard.
Again, I was not alone.
A gathering at the Sister’s Salon where a community of black women and women of color in digital health shared their frustration with the lack of diversity and amplification of voices that were those of black or brown in the innovation space.
I’m calling on healthcare leaders to go beyond a public statement about standing against racism and actually start investing in communities of color.
The historical context of racism in our society and in the medical community as a whole is long-standing. Yet, these are topics rarely spoken of at healthcare conferences related to patient experience. That is why I created Humanizing Health Care to bring awareness to these “taboo” discussion points to the forefront, including but not limited to:
- History Overview: racism, classim & sexism in healthcare
- Medical Profession: womens reporductive rights pregnancy and abortion
- Stigma & Discrimination in healthcare: Implicit & Explicit Bias
- Socioeconomic Barriers: Health disparities
- Healthcare cost & its impact on patient experience
- Accessible health: Community and public health
- Population health & minority health
- Patient Voice: Health policy & the legislative process
- Fundamental steps in the legislative process
That said, here are some steps you can take to combat racism at the across multiple levels:
- Acknowledge that racism exist
- Dismantle institutionalized racism by educating your workforce
- Provide culturally appropriate information
- Foster an environment for open communication around these issues
- Re-examine your hiring practices
- Look at whose voice you’re amplifying. In other words, show that you value the diverse groups within your workforce/organization
- Engage with diverse innovators and people of color at the community level
- Take a closer look at those bridging health disparity gaps by investing capital in their ventures, or partnering with them
- Invest in research locally or nationally. There are community groups and grassroots organizations working with communities of color. Do not overlook these groups for insights by organizations not localized to the problem
- Question/revealuate your internal affair practices and procedures used to address accusations of discrimination and bias in your practice
- If you’re an investor take a closer look at your funding thesis, and the diversity of your portfolio
Black people are dying, people of color are dying, the sick and the poor are dying. It can be fixed, so ask yourselves, what can you do today to make a better tomorrow for people of all color to be treated equally with dignity and respect and be provided with equal access to achieve optimal health and wellbeing.