Data’s Role in Promoting Diversity in Healthcare

A diverse classroom of healthcare students takes notes at an educational institution.

A more diverse healthcare workforce makes for a better healthcare workforce. With medical personnel that reflect the makeup of the overall population, health outcomes will improve for those in underserved communities.

That has been the finding of several studies into the correlation between diversity in the healthcare workforce and patient outcomes. People in government, education and the private sector all agree changes are needed.

Data is expected to play a role in both documenting the problem and finding solutions.

For example, the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP) put data at the center of the diversity issue. The group recommended that government leaders promote diversity in the healthcare profession through a variety of methods. It also called for a system that develops and disseminates data to track diversity in nursing education and uses data to establish a “national clearinghouse of best practices in advancing diversity in nursing education and employment.”

Why Is This Important?

In its report, NACNEP wrote a diverse nurse workforce “is essential for progress towards health equity in the United States.”

The reasons for this are complicated. The report, quoting from past research into the issue of diversity and health outcomes, said that a larger representation of minorities in nursing led to better care for those in disadvantaged communities.

One of the reasons for this is that minority nurses are more likely to work in underserved communities, the report stated. It also stated: “A rich body of evidence shows that health outcomes are improved by a match between patient and the care provider relative to race and language. This match is referred to as concordance.”

A recent “Kelly Report,” issued by U.S. Congresswoman Robin L. Kelly of Illinois, focused on Health Disparities in America, and argued for more diversity in healthcare so that patients can be served by medical professionals who share the same race, ethnicity, culture or language.

The Story of the Data

There have been a variety of studies done on diversity, particularly in the nursing profession. One study cited by NACNEP found that about 75% of all working nurses are white. However, a National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) study also cited by NACNEP offered the following breakdown of nurses by race:

  • 83% White
  • 6% Black
  • 6% Asian
  • 3% Hispanic
  • 1% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • 1% Other

Whichever is correct, both indicate a healthcare workforce that does not reflect the racial breakdown of the United States population, especially among blacks and Hispanics. That breakdown, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is:

  • 60.4% White (does not include white Hispanics)
  • 18.3% Hispanic
  • 13.4% Black
  • 6% Asian

Efforts to Support Diversity in Healthcare

A study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made it clear that a change is needed in how healthcare operations approach recruiting staff members. The report called for “intentional efforts to recruit public health and healthcare professionals from populations most adversely affected by health disparities.”

The report noted that “broad recruiting strategies” were not accomplishing this goal.

One idea is to have the federal government offer incentives to health organizations that improve their hiring of a diverse group of workers, according to NACNEP.

The CDC said educational institutions also need to do a better job recruiting minorities to their programs. This starts at a very young age by encouraging minority students with an interest in healthcare to get into the profession.

Encouraging young students to enter a nursing or other healthcare degree program is encouraged by the federal government through such programs as the Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students.

Achieving Health Equity

While government efforts are commendable, real change will not happen until private businesses and educational institutions address the issue. And that is going to involve the use of data.

Some in the health informatics business, for example, have started to develop a set of basic foundational knowledge that people need to work in health informatics and are sharing it for free on the internet.

Data can also play a role for schools in tracking the racial and ethnic makeup of healthcare focused degree programs.

Looking forward, data is best used in identifying people in underserved areas with a desire to become a healthcare professional. Schools already set aside certain scholarships for those from underrepresented communities.

For businesses, research has found that certain factors impact the creation of a more diverse workplace. They involve both recruiting practices and on-the-job policies such as:

  • Finding qualified candidates outside of the usual referral systems, which have been shown to promote a homogenous workplace.
  • Ensuring that mentoring is available for people of color
  • Using data to drive performance evaluations, not subjective opinions, as they can often be skewed against those from underrepresented communities
  • Making sure the healthcare company has an inclusive culture

Both schools and private businesses will play a key role in creating more diverse healthcare workplaces, in partnership with government incentives and programs. The drive for diversity in healthcare represents both an improvement in the workplace and the chance for better health outcomes for patients.

The University of South Florida has appointed a Vice President for Diversity, Inclusion & Equal Opportunity to help drive ongoing diversity efforts which have already been praised in the past. The school was named “Institution of the Year” by Education Dive recently, primarily for its dedication to the success of all students.

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