Category: Healthcare Disparity

GSK’s Sick Pay “Micro-Grants”

Just when I think I have seen every form of healthcare inequity, along comes another one. And sometimes, just sometimes, a potential way to minimize the inequity’s impact comes along with it. Check this out.

What you will see is a report that 64% of working people admit to having clocked into their places of business while sick. Why? Primarily a desire to avoid losing a day’s pay. AND. Workers of color are more likely to engage in such behavior than Caucasian women. Why? In many cases, that day’s pay is more important to their families’ budgets.

Enter GSK, manufacturers of Theraflu. In order to fight both the underlying behavior and the inherent inequity, they will be offering 1,000 parent-patients, especially LatinX and Black mothers, “microgrants” of $150 to permit them to stay home when ill. 

Bottom Line. While I admire the creativity of this program, I scratch my head concerning its practicality. How much effort will need to be expended by the patient, and by the grantor, to apply for each grant, assure that the application is legitimate and issue the check? Will funds be received by the patients in time to meet the requirements of their weekly budgets? And what will the impact be on widespread inequity in sick pay of only 1,000 such grants? 

In brief, there seems to be a big problem here. Likely, a bigger solution than this is needed!

Digital Health and Cultural Appropriateness

Check this out. I am going to offer you a choice today. You can either take away one very simple but important thought, set forth in the “Bottom Line” below, or you can spend almost an hour of your time watching the video you will be sent to via today’s URL. Be a sport and watch the video. I am sure that you will find it to be worthwhile.

Frankly, this one caught me by surprise. An absolute “DUH! Why didn’t I realize that?” experience. The panel discussion presented here centers around attaining three realizations. First, it is well recognized that in our race to eliminate inequity in healthcare, it is extremely important to have minority patients treated by practitioners who are “culturally sensitive” to their subgroup. Second, it is often impossible to have practitioners with the right language skills, cultural orientation, etc. available on site everywhere to meet this requirement. Third and finally, telehealth can be used to manage this challenge by providing access to “diverse providers,” and doing so efficiently. 

Put all of this together and you have a great opportunity going hand in hand with an interesting challenge. The opportunity lies in being able to culturally “match” providers and patients. If a Black female patient wants to be treated by a Black female physician, that can be made to happen via telehealth. The challenge lies in figuring out what organization is going to set up the system that is going to make this all happen.

Spend an hour of your time listening to this panel discussion, and you might start to get an idea as to how all of this might work. 

Bottom Line. A potentially significant application of telehealth is the ability to provide patients with access to culturally “diverse providers,” thus permitting better practitioner/patient interaction and better healthcare outcomes.

What role should the pharmaceutical industry play in making this happen???

Toward Health Equity in Cervical Cancer Screening

We have talked before about the two different approaches to health equity. One is the “top down” approach, which tries to reduce inequities in all of healthcare. In order to accomplish this, an awful lot of prejudices with deep historical roots need to be eliminated. 

Alternately, we have explored a “bottom-up” approach, where specific sponsors, often pharmaceutical companies, institute specific communications programs in treatment areas of interest to them. Check this out. Here you will see another such program, this one aimed at increasing cervical cancer awareness among women of color. As with the other similar programs we have talked about, available data indicate that minorities are at special risk of cervical cancer, with this as usual being the result of lack of access and follow-up. 

Several things of note in this program. One is that rather than using often seen scare tactics, this program entices women to enjoy “Cerving Confidence,” emphasizing that cervical cancer is preventable. Smart!!!

Additionally, you will note that this program got huge media exposure, and active chatter on the social media as well. All good!!!

Last but not least, the program was evaluated against a control group, with a 10-point “lift” in likelihood of suggesting cervical cancer screening to a friend or relative seen in those exposed to the PSA.    

Bottom Line. Yup. The more I read about these “bottom-up” programs, the more I am impressed with them. True, they aren’t eliminating endemic racism in healthcare. BUT. If they can get immediate and positive health outcomes like this one did, I’m thinking they are still an important avenue toward health equity.

BTW, the timing is clearly right for this lift, since the article reports that during height of the pandemic, screening for cervical cancer fell by 84%. 

Good work!!!

Racing for Health Equity, One Disease Entity at a Time

Check this out. What you will see is a PSA by Common, in conjunction with Bristol Myers Squibb, aimed squarely at raising lung cancer consciousness among people of color. Like so many diseases, lung cancer weighs especially heavily on minorities in three ways. First, many of their habitual behaviors, e.g., disproportionately high incidence of smoking, contribute to developing lung cancer. Second, numerous factors make Blacks shy away from screening opportunities. Both lack of trust and lack of access are operative here. And last but not least, it is unfortunately clear that the medical system still discriminates against African Americans in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

I’ve made this point before but let me make it here, one more time. There are two very different approaches to racing for health equity. One might be thought of as “top-down,” generally increasing the access of minority patients to HCP’s, drugs, etc.  OR. We can do it “bottom-up,” i.e., focusing on improving awareness, diagnosis and treatment for the disadvantaged treatment-area-by-treatment area, as BMS is doing here.

Bottom Line. It has been fascinating for me to watch equity programs being developed by healthcare manufacturers. While some, like the Johnson and Johnson “Race to Health Equity” program we have talked about before are very much top-down, most companies are taking the bottom-up approach, understandably focusing on treatment areas where they have a stake because of their product lines. 

I am guessing that in the interest of those whose needs we are trying to meet, the best approach will likely be a hybrid of top-down and bottom-up programs. But how do we blend these two types of initiatives? Who coordinates them? Who funds them?

All good questions! And all of them need to be answered if we are ever to make the much-needed progress toward the health equity goal!!!

The Ethics of “Placebo-Controlled” Studies

Funny thing. When we hear the term “placebo-controlled study,” the methodological purists amongst us generally think that is a good thing. After all, without a placebo control arm, how would we know whether benefits apparently produced by a therapy were, in fact, actually placebo effects. But check this out. What you will see is a situation in which the circumstances of “placebo control” raise significant ethical questions. Why? Several reasons. Most tellingly, because the study participants were disproportionately “disadvantaged” inner city children of color.  AND. Because the placebo control involved withholding a standard treatment for patients with Vitamin D deficiency. AND. Because the study lasted almost a whole year, with standard therapy being withheld for this entire time for the control group. 

Bottom Line. Think about this one for a couple of minutes. The real kicker here is that this research could have been done without the placebo control arm. The reason it wasn’t?  It would have taken longer and been more expensive. 

The right question, as posed at the end of this piece, deals with how the heck institutional review boards at several major institutions signed off on this research. Exactly the kind of unethical research such boards are intended to prevent. 

How indeed!!!

Healthcare Inequity is Still Alive and Well

Pardon the tongue-in-cheek title for this post, but if you check this out you will see a very disturbing NYT article. Disturbing in that it summarizes recently reported metanalyses, demonstrating that in the first twenty years of this century, there has been virtually no narrowing of the healthcare disparity gap in the United States. That is unacceptable! That is a disgrace!!!

As many of you know, I spend a lot of time thinking about and working on healthcare disparity. Economic, racial, or any combination thereof. As Vice Chair of the Board at Hilton Head Island’s Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, serving over 10,000 patients who otherwise would be “unserved,” I am presented daily with the stark reality of this situation, which has been brought into even greater clarity by the pandemic. For example, I was recently informed that on Hilton Head, 70% of Caucasians are fully inoculated. That number is 40% for Blacks and 20% for LatinX. Why? Is this about access or attitude? Probably both, and a lot of other causes thrown in at no extra charge. Whatever the reasons, guess what COVID patients are filling the ICU beds at Hilton Head Hospital.

Bottom Line. As this NYT piece reasonably concludes, whatever we have been doing as a nation to move toward healthcare equity clearly is not working. We need to do something else. Something different. Something way bigger. 

Thus, while I laud the programs that healthcare companies are mounting to reduce disparity, I am afraid that the problem transcends the ability of these programs to eradicate the underlying problems here. 

We need to figure this out! And to make a difference so that 20 years from now, metanalyses will not once again be demonstrating no improvement on, perhaps, one of the most important metrics in existence today.