BY TIMSHEL TARBET
Healthcare is personal. Each of us experiences our own health journey, very much influenced by our culture, our experiences, our family and our identities. In ethnically and racially diverse communities, it can be difficult to find adequate healthcare that is consistent with one’s unique linguistic, cultural and personal preferences and values. That’s because the diverse needs of these populations are often overlooked by the healthcare system, which often leads to poorer health outcomes and missed opportunities for health insurers and brokers not equipped with the right tools to serve them well.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. By honoring the different cultural norms and values in diverse populations and working to provide care that is culturally and linguistically competent, health insurers and Medicare brokers have the opportunity to provide excellent care to more people and do it in ways that truly support their needs.
“The diverse needs of these populations are often overlooked by the healthcare system, which often leads to poorer health outcomes and missed opportunities for health insurers and brokers not equipped with the right tools to serve them well.”
THE VIEW THROUGH A DEI LENS
In the past, there have been numerous efforts to make healthcare more diverse, equitable and inclusive (DEI). But when you look at traditional DEI programs, many are focused internally. “Diversity” is often thought of in terms of a box to check to show you’ve got a mix of race, genders and cultural backgrounds in your employee ranks.
It’s a very narrow view: Are we meeting these targets or not? Check the box, yes or no.
The landscape can appear very different, though, when you take a step back and look at it from the perspective of the customer. Customers often look for their reflections in the organizations they choose to patronize. If they don’t see people who look like they do, speak their language or understand their culture, they may feel misunderstood, unappreciated and dissatisfied.
Likewise, consider a health plan member who calls their insurer to find out if a medication prescribed by their doctor is covered by their drug benefit. What if they discover that the insurer’s customer service representatives don’t speak their language? That could lead to a sense of frustration, and they might not follow through with their treatment or ever want to interact with the health plan again.
But what if instead, the member enrolled in a plan fully able to respond to their cultural needs and connect them with someone who can help them in their native language? In that case, it’s more likely they’ll get the care they need and have a better opinion of both their health plan and the broker who recommended
FORGING A NEW PATH TO DIVERSITY
To meet the needs of people in racially and ethnically diverse populations, we can’t travel the path that everybody has traveled before; it needs to be deeper than that. At SCAN, where our mission is to help all seniors remain healthy and independent, we’re making a commitment to understand how diversity affects our business and how to serve seniors in ways that are racially and culturally competent. We can’t just diversify our member population — we need to be able to serve those people as well. So, we’re looking holistically at who our customers are, how we’re serving them and how we can better honor their diversity. This requires examining the healthcare process end-to-end through a DEI lens. That means having in place a sufficient population of providers trained to provide high-quality care to an ethnic or racially diverse patient, as well as Member Services staff who can answer calls in a way that respects their unique cultural and linguistic needs. Likewise, we’re also working to make sure our employee population reflects the diversity of the seniors in the communities we serve so that we’re better able to reach the members of those communities with programs and services that respect their unique cultural and linguistic needs.
Of course, we can’t do this alone. We rely on informed brokers and other trusted advisors in the community to help us design products and programs that are appropriate for their clients. After all, nobody knows more about the needs of their clients than you do.
“We rely on informed brokers and other trusted advisors in the community to help us design products and programs that are appropriate for their clients. After all, nobody knows more about the needs of their clients than you do.”
And, of course, the broker population needs to be supported in ways that help them understand how our products can benefit their clients. If these kind of back-end pieces aren’t in place, the door is left wide open to dissatisfaction and poorer health outcomes.
WITH DIVERSITY COMES OPPORTUNITY
Looking at the healthcare process through a DEI lens and creating culturally and linguistically competent solutions can bring more value to your business, your customers and the communities you serve. Markets with largely ethnic or racial populations are often overlooked by brokers, which presents an opportunity for the advisor who has the tools to speak to the unique needs of clients in these groups.
With more diverse offerings developed for specific populations, you can communicate with racially and ethnically diverse markets in a way that wasn’t possible before by being able to introduce them to the plan that best aligns with their values, personal beliefs and other factors that impact their access to care, satisfaction and, ultimately, their health. This can be a key service differentiator to help you grow your business and create longer- lasting relationships with your clients.
Because when you make the connection between a client with distinct cultural or linguistic needs and a health plan that respects their differences and meets them wherever they are on their healthcare journey, you’ll have a grateful customer who will spread the word about your business’ ability to meet their community’s needs.
TIMSHEL TARBET is VP of Business Excellence and Diversity Strategy at SCAN Health Plan. An experienced healthcare executive who served in the United States Air Force, she leads new initiatives to bring SCAN’s experience keeping older adults healthy and independent to new, diverse populations. SCAN is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans, serving more than 230,000 members in California.