Conversations and healthy debate about issues facing our industry and the health care system are critical to addressing some of today’s challenges and opportunities. The PhRMA blog welcomes guest contributors, including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others, to share their perspectives and point of view.
Today, we are pleased to welcome a guest article from Stephanie Dyson, Vice President, USPGA at Bristol Myers Squibb.
Spring is often considered a season for renewal and hope. With April being recognized as National Minority Health Month, it is an ideal time to elevate the importance of improving the health of racial and ethnic minorities and reducing health disparities. At Bristol Myers Squibb, we believe achieving health equity is an urgent priority, and that this will require collaborative engagement across a variety of healthcare stakeholders.
There are various factors that drive disparities in minority populations. Among these are racial inequities, socioeconomic status and geographic location, also known as social determinants of health. These foundational attributes have been shown to impact access for patients across the continuum of care — including preventive care, clinical trial participation, access to medical innovations, and survivorship.
The evidence of disparities in care among minority populations is indisputable. Early in my career as a registered nurse, I saw firsthand the urgent need to better serve communities that struggled to navigate the healthcare system and coordinate care.
Within our therapeutic areas of focus at BMS, we also see evidence of inequities. There are higher incidences of multiple sclerosis in Black patients compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Hospital mortality rates trend higher for Hispanic patients with irritable bowel syndrome compared with non-Hispanic white populations. Individuals living in the “Southeast Stroke Belt” experience a 27% higher risk of stroke compared to the rest of the United States. There is also emerging evidence of disparities in access to highly effective immunotherapies at a time when the incidence of cancer among minority populations is projected to nearly double between 2010 and 2030.
There’s no time to waste in meaningfully tackling these issues head on. That’s why, as part of our company’s health equity platform, we are focused on identifying ways to make a lasting impact on communities most in need.
Recently, BMS granted nearly $8 million to 24 nonprofits that train and mobilize community health workers and patient navigators to increase access to healthcare services among medically underserved patients and communities across the United States. The idea is simple: health workers and navigators should be available in these communities and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve. The grants are part of a broader $150 million commitment by the company over five years to address health disparities, increase clinical trial diversity, expand supplier diversity, increase workforce representation, and enhance employee giving in support of social justice organizations.
These are only a few examples how we are addressing health equity. But our journey does not end here. Our policy and government affairs team is pursuing efforts to promote better health equity through public policy by:
- Developing Data-Driven Standards: We’re conducting our own proprietary research and supporting other efforts to identify opportunities to develop data-driven standards for research and clinical trials. For example, we recently supported the National Minority Quality Forum’s disease state index maps as part of their efforts to address cancer care disparities in underserved populations.
- Advancing Pro-Patient and Pro-Access Legislation: We’re actively shaping policies that aim to improve patient affordability and supporting legislation that has the goal of improving access to medicines for underserved and at-risk communities.
- Partnering with Community Health Organizations: We’re identifying opportunities to collaborate with community-based organizations and establish focused initiatives at the local and state level.
I’m proud of the steps we are taking from a public policy perspective to address health equity but understand there is more work to do. To make meaningful change in the halls of Congress and the communities that need more resources and support, we will require further collaboration with partners to understand, analyze, and produce more solutions to address health disparities. By working together, we can foster better outcomes for minority communities during National Minority Health Month and beyond.