The path to health equity is not a new story. It has been a deeply rooted issue that has persisted for generations and remains at the core of the missions of many healthcare organizations today. From addressing disparities in healthcare access and quality to health outcomes among various racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups to how the COVID-19 pandemic magnified the issue, the need for action is more urgent today than ever before. But with so many organizations, public health advocates, policymakers and health influencers talking about it, is there still an opportunity to build meaningful and distinguishable thought leadership around it?
While it seems like everyone in the healthcare industry is talking about health equity, we must recognize that not all conversations are equal. Some are driven by genuine commitment, backed by real action and investment, while others might appear to be “lip service.” And although it seems like the industry is saturated with points of view from individuals and organizations alike, there is still plenty of room to be part of the conversation in an authentic and ownable way. But to do so, one must understand the role that health equity plays in a communications strategy and how the story has and will continue to evolve, as well as embrace some best practices in telling an impactful story.
Talking About Health Equity Is Good For Business
In the world of healthcare communications today, having a clear and ownable point-of-view on health equity is a necessity for healthcare organizations and their leaders. Prioritizing health equity as a story pillar not only offers an opportunity to build thought leadership, but more importantly helps drive real business impact, including:
- Values Alignment: Demonstrating a commitment to health equity aligns to the social impact values that many organizations operate by, as well as the values that are increasingly important to patients, healthcare professionals, public health experts, policymakers and other industry stakeholders.
- Improved Reputation: Sharing contributions toward health equity can enhance an organization’s reputation and credibility, both internally and externally.
- Attracting Talent: People want to work for organizations that they can stand behind, and where they feel like they are contributing to the greater good. A strong commitment to health equity can help attract top talent in an increasingly competitive hiring environment.
- Competitive Advantage: A distinctive perspective – backed by impactful initiatives – can set an organization apart from competitors and help win the hearts and minds of stakeholders.
- Positive Impact: Telling stories about health equity can help drive the awareness and action needed to affect positive change in underserved communities.
The Next Chapter for Health Equity
The current health equity narrative is multifaceted, focused on themes ranging from socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and gender disparities to access to education and advocacy to diverse representation among healthcare professionals and the healthcare workforce, and more.
As we look to the future, the health equity conversation is poised to evolve, with emerging topics coming to the forefront, including:
- Digital Equity: Ensuring that all populations, regardless of their socioeconomic status or technological literacy, have access to and can benefit from the innovative digital healthcare solutions of today and tomorrow.
- Mental Health Equity: Recognizing and addressing disparities in mental health access and treatment, particularly in marginalized communities.
- Environmental Health Equity: Tackling environmental factors, such as air and water quality, that disproportionately affect the health of underserved communities, potentially contributing to respiratory conditions, cancer incidences and other health issues.
- Education Equity: Highlighting how health outcomes can be linked to education, as those with lower levels of education often have less health literacy, leading to less likelihood to seek out preventive care, a lack of understanding of treatments and a greater probability of engaging in risky health behaviors.
- Global Health Equity: Pushing the discussion beyond national borders to address global health disparities and drive a unified international movement.
Building Health Equity Thought Leadership With Impact
With so many healthcare organizations and experts competing for share of voice in the health equity conversation, building a thought leadership program on the topic requires a strategic approach that takes into account several core tenets:
- Pick a Lane: Healthcare organizations that focus on specific areas that align with their health equity mission – rather than trying to boil the ocean – create more meaningful stories with greater impact, and a bigger opportunity to be known for something specific and memorable.
- Use the Right Storytellers: Carefully selecting the individuals, either inside or outside the organization is key, those who will lead and share the story. Thought leaders, experts and advocates who look like and represent the communities most impacted create legitimacy.
- Authenticity Matters: When an organization’s commitment to health equity is embedded in its culture and business model, thought leadership on the topic is perceived as genuine and trusted.
- Leverage Data: Shaping stories around proprietary data and research offers an opportunity to create distinctive and ownable insights, observations and calls for action.
- Embrace Omnichannel: Tell stories across an integrated channel ecosystem, with messages tailored to resonate with each audience, delivered through the spectrum of platforms where they access and consume information and news.
- Showcase Real-World Impact: Share examples of the work the organization has done and the measurable impact it has made through its health equity initiatives.
- Tell Stories with Heart: Narratives that focus on the human element of health equity can be powerful, meaningful and lasting – and inspire and motivate others to support the mission. Find ways to genuinely share stories of the people and communities whose lives have been transformed by the organization’s efforts.
- Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Merely talking about health equity is not enough. To drive thought leadership on the topic, organizations must first make an investment in programs, initiatives and partnerships that contribute to health equity, and have tangible results to share.
At a time when healthcare is at the center of the political landscape, policy discussions, the economic climate and the news agenda, the need to address health equity has never been more critical. Healthcare organizations, including pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, hospitals, health tech firms and nonprofits, have a unique opportunity to play a pivotal role in shaping the narrative around health equity. By telling stories that humanize their missions, build trust and inspire action, they can drive meaningful change – ultimately contributing to a legacy of equity and inclusivity in healthcare that will benefit generations to come.
This article originally appeared in O’Dwyer’s, October 2023 – The Healthcare Issue.
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