A new coalition takes on social justice in medicine

Jen Rogers
·3 min read

There are deep racial disparities when it comes to health care access and outcomes in the US. Covid-19 and its substantially higher death and hospitalization rates for communities of color have only served to drive home the point even more forcefully and delivered new urgency to solving for equity in healthcare.

“We need to think as big as we possibly can,” says Kirsten Axelsen, the Executive Secretary and co-founder of the Preparedness and Treatment Equity Coalition (PTEC), a new organization of doctors, researchers and businesses trying to bring more data and research to the conversation over systemic racism and social justice in healthcare.

With the explosion of electronic health records and technology driven data, medicine is awash in numbers and metrics. But Axelsen says we are still missing key metrics in 2020 that are holding back actually solving for equitable care.

“There's no measurement for equity,” she notes. “You can get your performance bonuses by having a drug that performs well, on average, or by achieving vaccination rates, on average within a population or blood pressure control on average. But there's no incentive for making the difference between the worst performing patient and the best performing patient lower.”

“A coalition of all parties”

PTEC has partnered with members in the private sector including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Novartis (NVS), and Pfizer (PFE). But the coalition’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Benson Hsu says the key stakeholders to listen to are members of underserved communities, including the Native American patients he works with in South Dakota.

“A lot of these mandates have come from federal government, state government, and often without clear input, at least with the communities that I live in, of what the actual needs are,” he said. “So our coalition is really trying to bring in as many as possible. And not just say this is a federal mandate, not just to say that this is a large corporation mandate or business mandate, but to create a coalition of all parties.”

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 16: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY)  Regina Worthy performs an echocardiogram on a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Roseland Community Hospital on December 16, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. Roseland Community Hospital is situated in the Roseland neighborhood on the city's far south side. The neighborhood's population is 95 percent black. The COVID-19 death rate among black residents in Chicago is nearly double that of the city’s white residents. This week the United States recorded it's 300,000 COVID-19 death.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - Regina Worthy performs an echocardiogram on a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Roseland Community Hospital on December 16, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The current vaccine rollout is presenting a key opportunity to examine and change the way medicine is operating.

Dr Hsu believes, “There's definitely arguments to be made that some populations should be targeted differently, in the way that we target the elderly, as their rates are generally higher. We know that disproportionately our populations in the Black, Native American, Latinx communities are generally hurt more than our white communities.”

Hsu, who received his first Covid-19 vaccine shot this week “would encourage these communities to be somewhat targeted as we roll out our vaccination.”

For PTEC, the new crop of vaccines are just another example of inequitable access.

“There's good quality care out there. It's just not necessarily getting to the people who need it most,” Hsu said. “And again, part of what we're doing is we're not measuring who's getting the right care and rewarding physicians for spending that extra time or drug companies or pharmacists or drug distributors for achieving greater equity.”


Jen Rogers is an anchor for Yahoo Finance Live. Follow her on Twitter @JenSaidIt.

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