Improving the quality of care at a healthcare facility makes sense for the organization on every level. It fits the moral and ethical imperatives of the various professions that minister to the sick and keep the healthy well. From a business perspective, the better the quality of care, the more easily the organization can compete and, in theory, the more secure its financial outlook will be.
Executives are used to looking at compensation models, management theories, and technical advances. But there’s a new tool available for improving care: staff diversity.
There are inherent advantages of having minority representation in hospital staff. As with any type of business, the better you can understand your customers (the patients), the more effectively you can know, anticipate, and meet their needs. Increasing diversity at all levels of staffing can improve outcomes and connections to the community.
Similarly, the less representation, the greater the negative impact that can happen, as the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce of the Duke University School of Medicine noted:
Cultural differences, a lack of access to health care, combined with high rates of poverty and unemployment, contribute to the substantial ethnic and racial disparities in health status and health outcomes. Health services research has shown that minority health professionals are more likely to serve minority and medically underserved populations. Despite this fact, there is a severe underrepresentation of minorities in our health professions.
When patients feel they’re being judged by medical staff, they are more inclined to mistrust the professionals treating them and less likely to follow medical instructions.
Unfortunately, the gap between staff and patients is large. About 31 percent of hospital patients are minorities. Only 17 percent of hospital middle management, 12 percent of executive leadership, and 14 percent of board members are.
Addressing diversity issues isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Left on its own, the greater system of provider organizations and training institutions, like any existing and stable system, is unlikely to reverse course on its own. The Sullivan Commission offering a number of suggestions:
- Schools that train health professionals have to examine their culture and practices to see how they might help increase the pool of minority practitioners and what might be getting in their way.
- Improvements in K through 12 education is necessary to help create enough of a qualified candidate pool going into the professional training schools.
- Schools and care organizations need “commitments at the highest levels” to push for change. Without insistence, nothing will change because of the inertia of the status quo.
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