New Report Aims to Help Health Care Sector Address Inequalities in Access to Specialty Care

New Report Aims to Help Health Care Sector Address Inequalities in Access to Specialty Care

Today, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and FSG are calling on the health care sector to address inequity in a new resource—Breaking the Barriers to Specialty Care: Practical Ideas to Improve Health Equity and Reduce Cost.  

Poor access to timely, quality specialty care causes thousands of preventable deaths each year, particularly among low-income, minority, and rural populations who are fighting diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and HIV/AIDS. Studies suggest that eliminating racial disparities in cancer care alone would result in 250,000 fewer cancer deaths annually and result in $2.3 billion in direct health care savings from earlier diagnosis and treatment initiation for serious diseases and reduced emergency room usage and post-treatment readmission.     

A joint report from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and FSG seeks to change the poor access to specialty care by providing the health care sector with a guide to address the inequity challenge and capitalize on the opportunity to address the “triple aim” of health care improvement by tackling access, quality, and cost simultaneously.

Breaking the Barriers to Specialty Care is a series of 5 briefs, each with the latest data and analyses on inequities in specialty care, case studies of effective solutions for reducing disparities, perspectives from experts, and recommendations for the health care leaders seeking to improve equity in their own work.

The briefs are designed to help health systems leaders reduce disparities in their patient populations and broaden their reach within their communities, help payers reduce costs by proactively engaging and supporting patients to engage in timely specialty care, and to inform policymakers and private and public sector funders on how they can create the enabling environment to support health equity efforts.  

“Now is the time to address inequity in specialty care,” says Lauren Smith, M.D., a Managing Director at FSG. “The implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the shift from fee-for-service to value-based payment systems, growing collaboration between payers, providers, and community partners, and the broader national dialogue around equity and social justice together create a strong foundation to introduce efforts aimed at improving health equity as standard components of care delivery.”   

The series includes a brief on each of 3 critical levers to improve equity in specialty care:

  • Improving Specialty Care Availability: Solutions such as telemedicine, innovative partnerships between specialists and primary care physicians, and centralized local referral networks improve access to specialty care for low-income and rural populations and reduce long-term health costs.
  • Ensuring High-Quality Care: Acknowledgement of disparities among racial and ethnic groups is driving new efforts to mitigate provider implicit bias, establish culturally-competent care, and harness the power of quality improvement to identify and eliminate disparities in patient care.
  • Helping Patients Engage in Care: To improve health equity and control costs, specialty care actors are increasingly working to address the social determinants of health through community outreach to engage patients, introducing patient navigation, and incorporating patient support.

The series includes perspectives from those on the front lines of improving equity in specialty care. For example, Dr. Heidi Behforouz of Brigham & Women’s Hospital, who shares a key insight from Project Pact: “We found that community health workers helped us reach patients who were failing in the traditional model, that we reduced hospital admissions from this population by 60 to 70% in 2 years.”

The series also includes insights from some of the newest innovations in the field, like those from Project ECHO’s Erika Harding: “Project ECHO is a multiplier for the amazing work that hospitals and doctors already do and are mandated to do. And while our doctors do Project ECHO to have greater impact, it does have a cost-saving element.”

Other case studies include Kaiser Permanente’s language access program, HealthPartners’ “Partners for Better Health Goals” Initiative, United Health Group’s Health Equity Service Program, Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute’s community outreach approach, Cancer Support Community’s distress screening protocol, the Cancer Care Equity Program at Dana Farber, and over 20 others.        

As a follow-up to the report, FSG and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation will be partnering to develop a series of case studies based on the work of the Foundation’s grantees to improve equity in specialty care. Organizations receiving grant support from the Foundation to date include: Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care, Association of Community Cancer Centers, Maine Medical Center, Washington AIDS Partnership, Farmworker Justice, and Anne Arundel Medical Center.

The report was developed as a core part of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation’s new Specialty Care for Vulnerable Populations Initiative. Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation President John Damonti notes: 

“This report is critical to put a spotlight on the issue of health equity—not just on the persistent challenges that prevent too many people from receiving recommended specialty care, but also to highlight the solutions that everyone can and should implement to improve health and save lives.”

To read more about the issue briefs and download all 5, visit Breaking the Barriers to Specialty Care

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