This is the second ACCCBuzz post reporting on the 2023 National Minority Quality Forum Summit on Health Disparities and Spring Health Braintrust: “Reimagining Our Healthcare to Protect the Most Vulnerable.” This event was held from April 17 to 18 in D.C. You can access our previous blog post on the summit here.
The first day of the 2023 National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF) summit concluded with a session dedicated to modern innovations in early cancer detection, as panelists discussed the importance of cancer screening and education among patient populations who belong to marginalized communities. “A diagnosis of cancer can be really challenging for certain populations,” said Travelle Ellis, MD, director of health equity education, strategic partnerships, and medical integration at Exact Sciences. “With cancer, it is not just getting diagnoses, it is getting yourself to the place of treatment.”
According to Dr. Ellis, disparities exist because of social determinants of health, including healthcare policies that “keep people sick.” Stephen Thomas, PhD, MS, professor, Health Policy and Management, and director, Maryland Center of Health Equity at the University of Maryland, echoed this sentiment, stating that “all these innovations in healthcare are coming, but we haven’t changed the door patients are coming in.”
The concerns raised by Drs. Ellis and Thomas were further addressed by another panelist, Anabella Aspiras, assistant director of the White House Cancer Moonshot initiative. The primary goal of the Cancer Moonshot is to reduce the number of patients who die from cancer by 25 percent. “It will take everyone in this room to achieve our objective,” she said, adding that, “Equity is both the means and the end by which we achieve the goal of Cancer Moonshot.” And increasing cancer screening rates and improving patient education will play a critical role in achieving this goal.
For underserved and marginalized communities, building trust should set the foundation of any health-related promotional program. “So why not go where people already have trust,” Dr. Thomas asked, as he described the Shots at the Shop initiative—a White House-backed program that engaged 1,000 Black-owned barbershops and hair salons nationwide to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates. Following the success of this initiative, Dr. Thomas believes this model can be used to increase cancer screening rates nationwide. “If I can bring a lifesaving vaccine to a barbershop, why can’t I bring a flu [influenza] shot there or talk to you about colonoscopies,” he asked. “However, I think we must go with dignity and respect. You find people that don’t want to go to the doctor for fear of getting shamed.”
Byron Daily, a national community outreach manager at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Myeloma Link Program, emphasized the importance of patient education regarding cancer screening by recalling the following experience from his own myeloma journey: “Myeloma is the most diagnosed blood cancer in Black populations,” he said. ”I was offered a clinical trial, but I refused; I did not know much about it. I wanted the standard treatment, something I was sure worked.”
Now, Daily advocates for greater patient education in Black communities. “Myeloma is a disease that the patient does not recognize; they are not aware they have it,” he said. “We need to educate the community and, to Dr. Thomas’ point, having someone you can trust is beneficial.”
In another session that focused on addressing barriers to patient access to necessary therapies, panelists were asked to define health equity. “My definition is simple—getting people what they need, when they need it, [and] without putting them in poverty,” said Melodie Narain-Blackwell, founder and president at Color of Crohn’s and Chronic Illness. She believes that people may not understand that what they are experiencing is a health equity issue. “They [patients] are just going along to get along,” she said.
Further, Narain-Blackwell shared that health equity is vulnerable work. “If you haven’t lived through something that is challenging, you can’t know what it’s like,” she said. Thus, Narain-Blackwell believes that health equity initiatives must be conducted in partnership with the communities with which healthcare organizations would like to engage. “You have to put people in who want to be about people [the community], not people who are coming in to serve their goals,” she said.
In closing, panelists shared their perspective on implementing healthcare principles through a health equity lens. “We are pioneering generational change in health equity,” said Srikant Ramaswami, MS, JD, vice president and head, U.S. Commercial Communications, at GSK. “We are not just saying let’s do something today and stop tomorrow. It’s about a continuous momentum of touch points that leads to a better and brighter outcome for people.”
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