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How Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Can Influence Healthcare

Healthcare organizations have a growing responsibility to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts not only for their employees, but also to better serve patients and their families. DEI has been a recent focus for businesses and organizations across the world, but perhaps none stand to make a greater impact than the healthcare industry, as it directly and profoundly affects patient health outcomes and quality of life. In terms of healthcare, DEI efforts help organizations address:

  • Diversity: Understanding the background of employees and patients being served, including culture, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic status. Also, hiring and retaining a workforce that is representative of the patient population served.
  • Equity: Ensuring healthcare workers have what they need to do their jobs and patients have what they need in and out of treatment settings to effectively benefit from best practices in treatment (not to be confused with equality).
  • Inclusion: Giving employees and patients a voice to help provide and receive high-quality care and encouraging the presence of diverse healthcare staff in the treatment experience of patients.

The current state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare

In our 2023 State of Healthcare Training and Staff Development Report we found that, despite these benefits, approximately a quarter of healthcare organizations have not yet made DEI a priority. We found that 76% of managers and 76% of individual contributors reported that their organization had DEI training. While this was a large increase from our 2021 report, where 61% reported that their organization had instituted DEI, it still leaves many organizations without DEI initiatives.

By embarking on the journey to create high-quality DEI programs, you foster a workplace environment where your individual staff members feel a sense of belonging and that they are valued. This approach also empowers you to deliver inclusive, person-centered, culturally competent care, demonstrating to clients that you understand them as people. By ensuring that you have an equitable environment, you are creating an organizational culture that will attract and retain experienced staff and support your patients.

“Commitment to consistent DEI initiatives, especially training, not only is important for patient safety and better health outcomes, but also can be key for retaining qualified, engaged employees,” observes Rola Aamar, PhD, Senior Clinical Effectiveness Consultant at Relias. “Organizations that create and promote inclusive work environments and consistently let staff know that DEI is a priority are the ones that are most likely to reduce moral injury and burnout among staff.”

To help you on the journey to implementing better DEI practices, let’s look at some strategies you and your organization can use.

Strategies to promote DEI in your healthcare organization

By working to bolster DEI efforts, healthcare organizations have a unique opportunity to improve the lives of those providing and receiving care. Given that this is such an important responsibility, it can be difficult to know where to begin. The following strategies are key factors to consider as healthcare organizations approach DEI efforts.

1. Know your baseline

Thoroughly assessing your organization’s culture in relationship to DEI will help determine how well you’re currently performing and provide an indication of how far you need to go.

Example: Using patient and employee surveys or focus groups can help organizations learn more about the current perception of DEI.

2. Identify indicators of success

By selecting two to three factors that can be focused on over a fixed time period (e.g., six months or one year), your organization can implement targeted interventions and best practices to drive the success of DEI.

Example: Creating a goal to increase the number of staff members that are bilingual by 12% in one year to provide better care for non-English speaking patients.

3. Measure success

Tracking progress is key. Whether goals are creative around hiring, brand, or experience, routine progress checks should also be defined and scheduled to help quickly shift efforts if necessary and be sure objectives are being met.

Example: Gauging the number of training sessions for DEI education or increasing the number of candidates with diverse backgrounds.

4. Bring everyone in

Understanding the organization-wide reach of DEI efforts is an important element. While the Human Resources Department plays an obvious role in recruitment and hiring practices, don’t forget about the less obvious roles and departments that indirectly affect DEI.

Example: Consider the visuals used in marketing or the accessibility of information and services for various populations, such as having patient education materials available in multiple languages.

5. Establish leadership commitment

To truly impact DEI efforts in a meaningful and lasting way, executive leaders must fully commit and set the tone for the rest of the organization to follow. Channels for feedback will help to keep authenticity and accountability at the forefront of these efforts.

Example: Having leaders sign a commitment letter and displaying it for employees and patients alike sends a strong message that the organization takes DEI improvement seriously. Also having a patient community representative on your organization’s advisory board helps to ensure that a variety of stakeholders informs your leadership team.

6. Educate effectively

Providing education as a requirement for employees, such as cultural competency training, is a great place to start. Vetted training with qualified instructors is key to minimizing implicit bias.

Example: Include required education as part of new hire onboarding and orientation. You can also include additional courses and schedule follow-up training as needed.

Relias Vitals+Vision Podcast

We sit down with Celeste Duke to discuss the impact of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on employee retention. Celeste explains why DEI should be prioritized at every organization and what happens when it’s undervalued. Explore simple ways that leadership can make an impact and how leaders should handle missteps. We close with an inspiring story of how one New Orleans hospital couples DEI efforts with community outreach and retention efforts.

Example topics for training on DEI in healthcare

As part of an ongoing training plan, healthcare leaders should consider incorporating DEI education for all employees into part of the organization’s culture. To address DEI efforts, organizations should provide training on a wide variety of topics that include, but are not limited to:

  • Changing populations of the U.S.
  • Demographics of the organization’s patient populations
  • Health disparities related to diverse populations
  • Aspects of diverse cultures, such as languages, religions, spiritual practices, traditions, customs, beliefs, preferences, and values
  • How culture influences attitudes, behaviors and expectations related to health, medications, treatment regimens, healthcare, and healthcare providers
  • Communication skills, such as teach-back, plain language, verbal and written instruction methods, interviewing, non-verbal communication, and knowledge confirmation
  • How and when to use interpreter services
  • How to address confidentiality concerns
  • How to meet diverse needs of patients with disabilities and cognitive or mental health impairments

Learn how to put DEI into practice in healthcare

For providers to promote health equity through their practice, they need to understand the complexity of the intersection of these factors and how they impact treatment outcomes. To learn more about this, watch Rola Aamar’s session from our Impact Nation conference, “Is Race a Risk Factor? And Other Questions About Social Determinants of Health and Race-Related Health Disparities.” Aamar examines health disparities and health inequity in the American healthcare system, specifically focusing on:

  • Why classifying race as a risk factor is problematic
  • How social and systemic factors (i.e., SDOH) drive health disparities and inequity and how these factors play out on a daily basis in patient care
  • The importance of culturally sensitive treatment strategies

Improving DEI is becoming an increasingly important component of healthcare delivery. By understanding how DEI affects both employees and patients, healthcare organizations can improve workplace culture while providing better care. Ensuring DEI efforts are in place and effective will help healthcare organizations improve communication, increase patient satisfaction, and ultimately deliver higher-quality care.


Healthcare Training and Staff Development Report

To delve deeper into the state of DEI in healthcare, as well as other aspects of training, read our 2021 State of Healthcare Training and Staff Development Report.

Download the Report →

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