Effective population health strategies require leadership diversity

Much has been written and discussed about the value of diverse leadership and thinking to stimulate creativity and innovation, but there's little to show in terms of improvement in the makeup of governing boards and C-suites. 

A lack of leadership diversity in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and age presents a significant challenge for many healthcare organizations aspiring to achieve the aims of population health improvement.
 
The contributing factors and complexity of keeping a community healthy are daunting; yet the business case for population health improvement can no longer be ignored. Health disparities are an indicator of low-value healthcare that is more costly, does not meet quality standards and is not equitably delivered. Value-based care can address these weaknesses and direct resources toward improving the health and well-being of communities, but those new models still are not sufficient to drive gains in population health. New leadership perspectives and competencies will be required to redesign a healthcare system that addresses healthy living, disease prevention and elimination of disparities.

Population health improvement offers an opportunity for healthcare, and its leaders, to transform. Rather than focusing on what leaders need to do—such as conducting community needs assessments, using epidemiological approaches and big data analytics—healthcare organizations need to ask important questions, including: 

Who are the leaders driving population health? 

Are they reflective of the community? 

Are they diverse in gender and minority status? 

Do they embrace collaboration and are they respected in the community? 

Answers to these questions provide an opportune starting point for identifying areas to improve care by reducing access inequities and outcome variations. Leaders representing populations experiencing significant disparities are best-suited to initiate the conversations that will help address inequality within healthcare organizations and communities. Yet often, those sitting at the table do not offer a fair representation of the community's diversity. As a result, organizations may lack knowledge of the challenges facing different racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups.

Answers to these questions provide an opportune starting point for identifying areas to improve care by reducing access inequities and outcome variations. Leaders representing populations experiencing significant disparities are best-suited to initiate the conversations that will help address inequality within healthcare organizations and communities. Yet often, those sitting at the table do not offer a fair representation of the community's diversity. As a result, organizations may lack knowledge of the challenges facing different racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups.

To decrease disparities, the first step needs to be leadership equity. This is only achieved through the intentional cultivation and strategic inclusion of diverse leaders in management, governance and care delivery. This can't be undertaken as a “feel-good” approach. Instead, strengthening the organization's leadership diversity must be a strategy to improve health outcomes by ensuring that executives and providers represent the communities being served. Yet many C-suites and boardrooms do not have an intentional plan to achieve that objective. And it will not happen without commitment and intent.

Making the connection between health equity and leadership equity is not an easy path, but it is a journey that all organizations must take to improve the well-being of the populations they serve. At their core, leaders at all levels of an organization must have the vision, desire and capacity to work with community partners to deliver effective healthcare, as well as offer a broad array of social services designed to drive meaningful and measurable outcomes improvement. 

This cultural transformation starts with a board-supported strategy implemented across the organization. The strategy can be accomplished by using metrics to measure successful diversification of leadership and holding executives accountable for results. It includes identifying an organizational champion—preferably at the board level—to create equitable leadership development tracks.

While meeting the challenges of population health improvement is no simple task, with the essential ingredients of diverse leadership and grass-roots collaboration, communities will begin to make real progress.

To read more, or to view the orginal article on Modern Healthcare, click here.