Health equity, or giving patients the best care, when and where they need it, is a simple, yet powerful sentiment. Those two words, “health equity,” conjure up an idea that everyone has equal value and deserves the highest quality care whenever and wherever they need it. It’s about ensuring access for all, to quality care, while understanding that “equal” care and “equity of care” are not the same things at all. Equality means everyone is treated the same exact way, regardless of their needs or any individual differences. Equity, on the other hand, means everyone is provided with what they need, when they need it, and considers social determinants.
Since people all have different and individual needs, the care they receive should also be adjusted to best fit an individual’s or community’s needs. Care should always be delivered without judgement. And to achieve that, we need to first recognize and then overcome our own inherent biases and beliefs. To deliver the best and most equitable care, we need to use the best available evidence to inform all of our clinical decisions, recognize when care variability is occurring, and then address it, while tailoring care to individual needs. All these things together foster equitable, best care everywhere.
What Needs to Change?
COVID-19 has brought clarity to a situation that we all knew existed – we’re not delivering equitable, evidence-informed healthcare consistently across the country. Resources aren’t allocated equitably so the most impoverished and marginalized populations don’t have the same access to healthcare and health professionals or facilities as others might and still deserve. This fact needs to change. Healthcare systems need to recognize that they are not only caring for individual patients, but also for the communities in which they serve. Healthcare organizations and public health agencies need to address the social determinants of health issues more frequently so they can recognize and intervene when necessary, and then provide optimal, equitable care with programs that support local clinics, social and mental health, grocery stores and food pantries, along with robust patient education, that includes afterschool programs for children.
In our healthcare institutions, we need to ensure that all healthcare professionals have the same access to the best evidence-based information across all disciplines. And that evidence needs to be used to inform all clinical decision-making at the bedside. Healthcare institutions need to also recognize and be more aware of care variability when it is occurring, and then implement quality improvement programs to change current practice and behaviors to optimize patient outcomes.
More Issues to Address
Organizations need to also recognize that many deviations from best practice may be systemic or process-based, so addressing these issues should not be punitive but instead fully investigated for root-cause analysis before being modified to support best practice and greater patient outcomes.
Data should be properly analyzed to discover opportunities for care improvement. And new technology should not be adopted into organizations without first performing due diligence to ensure new tools will support and enhance patient care. It’s also important that nurses and other frontline clinicians take part in the decision-making process.
Equitable, best care everywhere – simple yet powerful words that have the power to change how we practice and deliver care to those in need. Those words have the power to inspire innovation and creativity while guiding us to a better and more equitable future in healthcare.
Are you ready to deliver best care everywhere?