Driving toward equitable health
A few years ago, Dr. Antoine Keller, a cardiac surgeon based in Louisiana, began documenting the prevalence and impact of structural heart disease among patients within minoritized communities. The reason: Significant health disparities that plague minority populations.
As evidence, Black Americans are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites.1 “Why is that?” Dr. Keller said, “part of the reason is we don’t even know who among us has heart disease.” He explained the legacy problem of systemic barriers prevent too many heart patients from minority communities from being counted, diagnosed, and properly treated.
In 2019, he launched a program called Heart Sense in southern Louisiana and Medtronic took notice. That’s because it’s one of the several programs that align with the company Mission — and it is committed to addressing health inequity with a grassroots approach connecting with underserved, sometimes unacknowledged structural heart patients. The grassroots organization conducts programs that can reveal the true prevalence of structural heart disease in disadvantaged communities. And they’re helping to raise the level of understanding among patients and primary care providers. They also evaluate patients to help not only to track prevalence but to encourage proper medical follow up.
Dr. Keller’s group ventured into local churches, community centers, and other places neighbors would congregate within southern Louisiana to educate people on heart disease risks and the technology that could potentially save their lives. And what’s as important is the data. His study has collected data so far from roughly 500 members of minoritized communities to help put the problem of health inequity into quantitative and qualitative terms.
It starts with the data
The data collected is information Medtronic can use to help address health disparities. And to that end, Heart Sense is one of several programs/ external research studies the company is supporting to gain imperative patient data and collaborate on peer-to-peer education that expands the patient knowledge of health risks and life-saving technological solutions.
Dr. Sylvia Bartley, Senior Director of Health Equity and co-chair of the newly formed Medtronic Health Equity Advisory Committee, said information from such programs is vital to understand the racial disparities that lead to inequitable care — and to provide appropriate technology for proper treatment. “You can’t ignore the facts,” she said.
The data in the Black community, for example, shows the impact of racial bias. Colorectal cancer mortality rates are more than 40% higher for the black population,2 the prevalence of obesity and diabetes is highest among non-white people,3,4 and hypertension disproportionately impacts Black Americans.1
“As we collect information, we can then extrapolate that data against our strategic plan and see how many people we will impact,” Bartley said. “And because we are doing this for the right reasons — our Mission — and we want this to be sustainable it helps the community and it makes a strong business model to get our life-saving technology to those who need it long-term.”
Another part of the long-term strategy involves working with programs that assess the scope of the health equity gap in a particular minoritized community. The Medtronic Neuromodulation business has conducted research to understand the reasons behind gaps in outcomes between people of color and the White community for those with Parkinson’s Disease and chronic pain. This data provides the business with a better sense of the barriers to timely diagnosis and quality care and helps our customers to address identified gaps.
It’s a bottoms-up, community-focused approach to finding meaningful solutions for patients who might not get the quality care they need.
Karen Shehade, Sr. Program Director for Medical Affairs, Americas Region, also co-chairs the Health Equity Advisory Committee. She explained the approach is really relying on that first person access.
Getting into the underserved areas in minoritized communities through programs run by people who’ve already earned the trust of potential patients is essential. They are informed on the impact of specific diseases and needs and can disseminate the right information and then introduce or expand the use of our life-saving technology. Shehade said, “we need the information to assess the greatest need and demonstrate how best we should solve for this problem.”
The programs Medtronic are supporting — or considering ― are at the beginning stage of this work. But the Health Equity Advisory Committee hopes this collective work will finally help reduce health disparities within communities that’ve endured the legacy of inequitable care for far too long.