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Summary

Reducing health disparities is critical to advancing health equity, and each stakeholder has a role to play.

The environment is ripe for healthcare organizations to take innovative approaches to tackling inequities in care. For example, government agencies, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), have released requests for information to solicit detailed feedback on how policies can be transformed through a health equity lens. Pharmaceutical companies have taken bold steps to outline long-term initiatives focused on engaging communities of color, investing in clinical trial diversity efforts, and providing financial support to community-based organizations that seek to eliminate disparities.

Based on our current assessment of the marketplace, requests from our customers, and internal expertise, we have outlined 6 innovative approaches for manufacturers to expand their footprint and further invest in health equity aside from charitable contributions and alliances with advocacy organizations.

1. Conduct patient population mapping

Patients experience diseases and other health conditions differently due to factors such as genetic predisposition, access to care, and socioeconomic status. As manufacturers seek to improve patients’ access to treatments, they should conduct detailed patient population mappings to understand variations in treatment patterns and health outcomes among specific patient populations. Demographics of patient populations beyond payer mix or line of therapy, including assessment of race, income, and other social determinants of health, are necessary to understand how diseases impact distinct populations. Mapping subsets of patients ensures manufacturers are identifying the right patient in the right setting and addressing unique barriers these patients may encounter as they access care and initiate therapy.

2. Embed assessment of healthcare disparities into market access and commercialization strategies

Examining existing disparities in disease areas should be part of any strategy focused on ensuring optimal access to care. Designing a robust market access strategy that includes tactics for mitigating health disparities entails addressing gaps in health outcomes, lack of access to the right providers/settings of care, and difficulties accessing treatments, among other details. Understanding the factors that exacerbate or are associated with health disparities in prioritized disease areas would provide insight into which patients have access to products and which access strategies should be tailored to specific patient populations.

3. Expand stakeholder partnerships perspectives

As part a traditional market access strategy, manufacturers engage with stakeholders, such as professional societies, government agencies, and health plans. To reach patients who experience barriers to accessing healthcare services, vast opportunities are available for manufacturers to establish innovative partnerships beyond those traditional engagements. With almost every community-based organization working to address health inequities, there is room to engage beyond financial commitments. Manufacturers should consider partnerships to identify patients and to pilot interventions targeted at early access to screening and testing. Manufacturers should also reimagine how digital health solutions can be deployed to ensure providers are reaching patients who otherwise face access barriers.

4. Assess and innovate patient support programs

Patient support programs present opportunities for manufacturers to directly impact the advancement of health equity for their intended patient populations. Supporting patients can extend beyond traditional patient support tools and resources, such as copay assistance, free drug support, and educational support. Complementary to conducting detailed patient population mapping, manufacturers could design tailored programs that support patients in ways that are specific to their needs. Programs that can help address disparities might include connecting patients to existing community resources and benefits or developing portals that connect patients to transportation and hotel arrangements for treatments that require travel. Additionally, manufacturers could consider providing support for non-drug-expense and long-term-care needs that patients may experience or for robust care coordination. Tailored interventions can help address patient access barriers throughout the care continuum and ensure equitable access to treatment.

5. Enhance patient engagement strategies

Manufacturers should start thinking differently about ways to disseminate information regarding treatments among different patient groups and how to tailor these efforts. Shared decision-making (SDM) tools are great mechanisms for ensuring patients and caregivers meaningfully engage in their care and their associated decisions. Implementation of SDM tools can empower vulnerable patients who might have been historically neglected by the healthcare system and lead to better access to care.

6. Inform policymakers on ways to improve care

Manufacturers may be in the best position to understand the populations they serve, especially with a focused strategy on appreciating the challenges to treat and manage disparate communities. Manufacturers can leverage this knowledge into a policy and advocacy strategy that prioritizes access and health outcomes of communities of color. These actions can be market focused, including Part D low-income subsidy beneficiaries and Medicaid populations.

Addressing health disparities requires a strong organizational commitment, leadership level focus, and financial investments in change. To augment the verbal commitment to health equity, manufacturers must also have a specific and tactical strategy that outlines what they want to achieve as it relates to reducing inequities in care. When manufacturers prioritize health equity at the C-suite level and integrate an action-oriented plan that is aligned with their enterprise-level strategy, other stakeholders overwhelmingly respond with offers to partner and innovate. Activities outlined within a health equity strategy can also create other opportunities across the business.

For many healthcare stakeholders, the pandemic was a fork in the road regarding how they engage in or address health equity. Many manufacturers are facing the critical and timely decision to invest to advance equity, in recognition of the concern that this segment of the market must consider the full breadth of needs for all patient populations and communities served.

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Avalere Health is an Inovalon company, a leading provider of cloud-based platforms empowering data-driven healthcare. We believe in the power of data, informing actionable insights, delivering meaningful impact, and driving stronger patient outcomes and business economics.

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