October 26th, 2021

Resolving the Health Equity Challenge, and the Role of the Private Sector

Original article published on FedHealthIT.

In this interview with Heather Seftel-Kirk of FedHealthIT, I discuss the common mission of Federal Health agencies, including VA, CMS and CDC. The interview discusses equity and disparities nationwide, how to ensure that efforts are focused on defining the scope of inequity, and defining or expanding programs to make actionable progress on providing Healthcare to Americans. I share insight on challenges, expectations for 2022, technology in the equation, and how the private sector can help.


Defining how to communicate with all Americans so that inequities can be overcome is key. People in lower socio-economic households face challenges in getting access to care and providers. A lack of access is at the core of these inequities.

Communication techniques and outreach should focus on how to reach those that lack trust in Government and Healthcare systems, or who cannot be reached by providers for economic and geographic reasons. Communicating with them using the channels that they use in everyday life –phone, SMS, email – is a core challenge that agencies continue to face.

What’s Ahead

The Administration and Government agencies are leaning in to invest heavily on Healthcare equity. Social determinants of health, communications, and outreach will be at the center of those efforts.

The COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force[1] was established in the President’s Executive Order issued on January 21, 2021. The private sector should be watching to see how the task force continues to advance equity as the pandemic begins to recede, and also for actionable items that can be applied across the Federal health system.

Technology as Part of the Equation

Technology and consumer intelligence is being used in the private sector to define at-risk citizens. Their known digital and phone behavior patterns are then leveraged to communicate to them at the right time.

Technology options are also available to the Federal Government that can reinforce trust between citizens and Government. In the face of an unprecedented volume of scam calls and cyber predators, validating an agency’s identity is critical to ensure the American people are open to receiving real communication from Government, whether by phone or email. Identity must also be verifiable for inbound calls to Government in the face of fraudulent citizen account takeover attempts.

Beyond technology, Government should look to minimize their reliance on Knowledge Bases Authentication (KBA) questions for consumer call center interactions. KBA is too often wallet-based (financial) questions, which are often inapplicable for low socio-economic citizens and only worsen communication and inequity challenges.

The Role of the Private Sector

The private sector has proven experience and capabilities that can scale for Government programs, improving trust in the mission that agencies are trying to accomplish.

A perfect example is solving for nationwide 5G access. It is understood that this will improve access to care, but also that the process could take decades. The private sector must help Government communicate with individuals through channels that are available now, particularly with respect to underserved areas where 5G will be slowest to arrive. This is not about applying the latest technology, but rather looking at the real challenge of communication and non-technology solutions that can be applied.

Looking outside of the box of Government-only data, the private sector must find ways to help Government define at-risk populations based on socioeconomic and household needs. Look to identify and communicate with consumers in the same manner they live their day-to-day lives, including telephone options, to ensure Government is communicating broadly and widely to all citizens, no matter the technology they have at their disposal.

[1] Federal Register Vol. 86, No. 15, Executive Order 13995

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