Three health industry leaders from Memphis offered complementary perspectives in a panel discussion at the Halloran Center, as part of the BlueCross diversity scholarship presentation this summer.
All strongly agreed that health disparities exist.
“You’ll find some who argue they don’t,” explained Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease specialist, writer and educator. “But they’re wrong.”
Dr. Altha Stewart, associate professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, agreed.
“ZIP code can dictate a person’s health status,” she said.
Dr. Jain argued that accepting their existence is a critical first step toward making change, followed by the need for better measurement and communication.
Renee Frazier, retired CEO of Common Table Health Alliance, noted that minorities have higher prevalence rates for almost every disease.
Throughout the discussion, moderated by BlueCross Chief Operating Officer Scott Pierce, the panelists addressed factors driving health disparities, along with potential solutions.
Exploring health equity
Frazier outlined how health equity — where people have an equal opportunity to reach their full health potential — doesn’t exist today, primarily because of factors known as the social determinants of health.
“Social determinants happen outside the provider’s office,” Frazier said, but they make their way in when a person needs care.
Dr. Jain spoke about how unconscious bias and cultural stereotypes can play a role in how people get medical care, citing a personal example of being on the receiving end of an untrue judgement based on his ethnicity.
Dr. Stewart added to the conversation by discussing how mental health plays a role in physical health, referring to the “silent travelers of mental illness” like diabetes and hypertension that are so often correlated with diseases and are sometimes ignored as potential root causes.
The panelists all agreed on a need for better representation of minorities in health care fields, especially in leadership roles. The 2017 BlueCross Diversity Scholars introduced after the panel hope to fit the bill.
Diversity scholarship award
BlueCross leaders officially awarded Takiyah Best (University of Memphis), CheKenna Fletcher (Tennessee State University) and Tanzie Nguyen (University of Tennessee) with $10,000 scholarships to continue their studies in health care-related fields.
Onstage, each shared how their families influenced their decisions to enter the healthcare field and spoke about their goals in a discussion led by BlueCross Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrea D. Willis.
Read their stories here.