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Equity must play role in health care transformation, says AAMC Board Chair Peter Slavin


“The simple truth is that we cannot achieve quality without addressing inequality,” said chair of the AAMC Board of Directors and president of Massachusetts General Hospital Peter L. Slavin, M.D., in a stirring address to colleagues who had gathered in Baltimore for the AAMC’s annual meeting. Slavin challenged the audience to take responsibility for creating not just a health care system—but also a society—that is more just. 

“Too often, we don’t take the time to consider our relationship to these issues until they are staring us in the face—when someone like Freddie Gray rolls into our emergency department,” said Slavin. “By then, of course, it’s too late.” 

In an effort to improve the quality of health care in the United States, health care organizations have been intensely focused on improving efficiency, effectiveness, safety, timeliness and patient-centeredness. “But equity has too often been ignored or politicized,” said Slavin. Instead, he says, equity should be the defining metric of whether or not we’re meeting our responsibility to deliver quality care to everyone who needs it.

Biases and disparities involving gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, among others, are all important, but Slavin focused his talk on race because, he said, “the strongest predictor of someone’s health status is the color of that person’s skin.” As examples, he pointed out that minority patients receive less pain medication, African American women are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer and people of color are two to four times more likely than white patients to develop end-stage renal disease. Slavin urged his colleagues to take a hard look at where they were falling short and outlined the steps that Massachusetts General Hospital has taken over the past decade to “find them and fix them.” 

“Our job is to heal. Our job is to save lives, regardless of what our patients look like, where they come from, what they believe or who they love,” concluded Slavin.” Issues of equality and justice are not separate from the practice of medicine.” Making progress on these issues will be challenging, Slavin acknowledged, but not impossible. “If we can discover these biologic miracles of modern medicine, then surely we can uncover the biases that exist in the care we deliver and learn to treat each other with the dignity and equality that every human being deserves.” 

To read the entire address, click here.

By: Amy Albo

Amy Albo is the Publisher for University of Utah Health Sciences.