Empowerment is key to fighting health inequities
For 15 years, Boston Scientific has worked with healthcare providers to raise awareness about the inequitable health outcomes Blacks often experience. Sam Conaway, President, Interventional Cardiology, Sales, and Camille Chang Gilmore, Vice President, HR and Global Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, share their perspectives on why addressing health inequities needs everyone’s participation.
What is the current state of health inequities?
Sam: As I reflect on 2020, I am struck by the level of catastrophic events it took to elevate awareness of the inequities endured by the Black community. From a healthcare perspective, we’ve known about these disparities for years– for example, if you’re Black, you’re over two times more likely to lose a lower limb to amputation, due to blood vessel blockages in the leg, compared to whites.
Camille: I see racism as a 400-year-old sin that has permeated all systems, with healthcare being the most egregious. Without access to preventative care, many Blacks get care in emergency rooms, long after preventative measures could have resulted in more positive outcomes.
How can we empower people to gain access to quality care?
Sam: I’ve encountered many people, from different racial backgrounds, who feel health equity isn’t an issue. I encourage people to step outside their perspectives and educate themselves on the levels of health care disparities experienced by women, Blacks, Hispanics compared to white males. I think the only way to be empowered to act is through education.
Camille: I agree with Sam; I will also add advocacy, especially from youth, as an avenue for empowerment. Today’s youth need to know that they can utilize the influence of partnerships and tap into accessible resources and knowledge to become educated on inequities while at the same time, stopping the generation of misinformation about medical devices, clinical trials and medicine in general.
Sam: Young people hold a lot of power as they are now finding themselves in caregiving roles for their aging loved ones. Older relatives need support in scheduling their annual check-ups and it’s often up to the caregivers to be advocates. I feel that awareness on disparities should be taught as part of standardized curriculum so that young people can be empowered.
What is the role of corporations like Boston Scientific in dismantling inequities?
Sam: Companies must acknowledge that disparities exist, and we need to work collectively to combat them. They must be willing to dedicate people and funding to develop actionable strategies that have measurable goals in order to assess improvement. It starts with leadership so that it permeates through the organization. Finally, to drive accountability, these efforts and goals must be made transparent and public.
Camille: At the end of the day, diversity is a given, inclusion is a choice and equity is the goal. Medical companies must ensure people of color have equitable access to treatments to manage their disease states. It is no longer acceptable to stand back and watch. And because this is a generational problem, we are not going to solve for this overnight.
What makes you optimistic about the work Boston Scientific is doing in combatting inequities?
Sam: With our health equity initiative, called Close the Gap, we’ve been at this for a while and progress is happening. Right now, the entire organization is rallying behind this work. One thing that gives me hope is our commitment to increase the number of diverse people in our clinical trials. Our teams are setting goals and measuring improvement such as increasing diversity enrollment in clinical trials. To me, this is a sign of tremendous progress.
Camille: I’m excited for the opportunity to tackle global inequities. By leveraging heightened awareness on social justice, I believe we can extend the dialogue to health inequities that are permeating around the globe. With our learnings, we can provide education and greater access to care to help people in often forgotten corners of the world.
This interview originally appeared in Savoy Magazine on February 24, 2021.