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Every Month Should Be National Minority Health Month

Every Month Should Be National Minority Health Month
Dr. Kai-ping Wang, AVP, medical director, behavioral health, Healthfirst

The New York healthcare system serves one of the world’s most racially and ethnically diverse populations. At Healthfirst alone, our nearly 2 million members represent 16+ ethnicities and speak more than 76 languages and dialects. Yet, just one month — April — is designated as National Minority Health Month. We believe our industry should reflect, advocate, and take action every month if we want to erase the stark health disparities that exist in New York and across the nation.

Five ways we can all do that:

1. Call out the problem. In the U.S., members of racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher rates of illness — like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease — and death when compared with their white counterparts. These disparities can be tied to health-related social needs, such as shelter, education, food security, and employment, while others can be tied to racism and discrimination within the healthcare industry itself. A 2020 found that 21% of surveyed U.S. adults experienced discrimination in the healthcare system. When we shine a light on disparities and the structural factors that contribute to them, we can begin to move forward toward a more equitable system.

2. Screen for social risk factors across diverse groups. Without knowing social risk factors (or social determinants of health), we cannot help patients achieve their highest level of health. Healthfirst incorporates social risk factors in our health risk assessments so we’re more aware of and can better address things like housing, transportation, or food-related issues.

3. Commit to minority-focused research. Minority groups have historically been underrepresented in clinical research, leading to gaps in knowledge of how certain illnesses present in those populations. We must build trust with and recruit minority participants into clinical trials and study programs designed to address specific communities. Several Healthfirst ADVANCE case studies are programs that take aim at health disparities among racial and ethnic minority groups. A partnership with NYC Health + Hospitals increased primary care and well-childcare visits for Black, Hispanic and Asian and Pacific Islander patients, for instance — groups that tend to lag behind the recommendations. And the number of Black members with controlled blood pressure jumped from 36% to 62% when they enrolled in the Healthfirst Best Life Initiative.

4. Take a hyperlocal approach to care. Healthcare is not one-size-fits-all. Patients are individuals and we need to understand the different nuances in their backgrounds, what they experience and how they best understand things. Healthfirst has 25 community offices throughout the New York area staffed by culturally sensitive employees who live and work in the neighborhood and offer services tailored to residents of the area.

5. Check your own biases. Most importantly, healthcare stakeholders must look within and examine their own prejudices and implicit biases that color their interactions. We should all strive to better understand the tints of our lenses through which we see the world.

Let’s use this designated month to continue to reflect, learn and understand, and put our learnings into action throughout the rest of the year.

I’d love to close with words from Healthfirst CEO Pat Wang that encompass how we approach our members: “The entire world is here. We don’t serve just one community or try to understand just one culture, language, or religious practice. We serve the world.”