In common terms, health equity means that everyone can attain their highest level of health. When health equity is fully realized, individuals — regardless of identity, social position, or economic standing — don't have to overcome obstacles when attempting to access healthcare providers, facilities, and treatments.
Putting health equity into practice fits naturally for an independent pharmacy. After all, patients think of their community pharmacist as a highly accessible and trusted healthcare professional. Nonetheless, competing priorities that arise from day-to-day operations and complex reimbursement scenarios can sometimes get in the way of patient communications that could lead to greater health equity.
Additionally, lack of transportation, language barriers, and inability to obtain information online often prevent patients in underserved communities from seeking regular and preventive care.
Let's look at real-world ways of making care more accessible and overcoming health disparities at the pharmacy.
Speak the language
A pharmacy in Los Angeles educates its patient population in the languages that are prevalent in the community (Vietnamese, Chinese, and Spanish). The store augments those touchpoints with the use of QR codes for scheduling requests such as COVID-19 vaccinations. Multilingual staff members connect with patients and guide them through the process of scanning the code to make sure they've properly booked an appointment.
Extend trust through community contacts
Recognize that distrust of the healthcare profession persists among certain communities. Be proactive about reaching out through community pillars, such as religious leaders and local/state politicians, to make sure accurate information flows to anyone who has questions. In one city, a pharmacy partnered with the fire department to get the word out about the availability of in-store vaccinations after a switch from mass-vaccination sites.
Leverage census data
Gain perspective into customer demographics by studying U.S. Census Bureau statistics for a 1.5-mile radius around your store. You'll see details on who's likely to walk through your front door. Armed with that information, craft your outreach program to align with community characteristics (e.g., signage and personalized health messaging written in patients' native language).
Become a core of the community
It's important to put yourself in the shoes of area residents, especially if you don't live directly in the community you serve. Think about what's keeping them from getting the care they need. For instance, they may work night-shift hours or have childcare commitments that keep them at home during the day. Services such as free home delivery could help eliminate barriers to health equity for many patients.
An independent community pharmacy owner in the Mid-Atlantic region turned a challenge into an opportunity during the early stages of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Realizing that physician offices weren't administering the vaccines, she contacted her political representatives and area news outlets about the pharmacy's ability to schedule and give shots. Those efforts to ensure her community had access to COVID-19 vaccines paid off with a contract to administer them to every high school and junior high in her county.
The common element among pharmacies that are successful in battling against health inequity is that they take proactive steps toward reaching the people who live in their communities. Whether communicating in patients' native tongue or promoting your store's ability to partner with community leaders, you'll be doing your part to deliver uncompromised care to underserved populations.
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