Advancing Equity in U.S. Hospital Systems: Employee Understandings of Health Equity and Steps for Improvement

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Goals: Equity in the U.S. healthcare system remains a vital goal for healthcare leaders. Although many hospitals and healthcare systems have adopted a social determinants of health approach to more equitable care, many challenges have limited the effectiveness of their efforts. In this study, we wanted to explore whether healthcare leaders and providers understand the concept of equity and can link the concepts to practical applications within healthcare systems. Methods: We explored how hospital leadership and providers at a major public hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, understand equity topics both conceptually and at a practical implementation level. We conducted 28 focus groups for >4 months involving 233 staff members, during which participants were asked about their understanding of various equity-related terms and equity implementation within the hospital. Principal Findings: Our findings reveal that there is little consensus among staff regarding the conceptual meanings of various health equity–related terms, and only a small minority of staff can articulate a conceptual definition that reflects current research-based understandings of equity. Furthermore, there is little consensus regarding how staff believes that health equity is practically enacted through various hospital programs, even among interviewees who could correctly articulate equity topics. These findings have no association with a role in the organization or length of time employed at the hospital. Practical Applications: These findings indicate a need for a more nuanced understanding of health equity and further clarification and education on how to implement health equity. Although understanding at the conceptual level is an important first step, conceptual knowledge alone is not enough to support health equity at either the individual staff level or the system level. Our recommendations cover strategic development; education specific to the hospital system and its unique needs; consideration of the specific roles of individuals in the organization; and the designation of diversity, equity, and inclusion staff and offices in a hospital organization.




Uehling, M., Hall-Clifford, R., Kinnard, C., & Wimberly, Y. (2023). Advancing Equity in U.S. Hospital Systems: Employee Understandings of Health Equity and Steps for Improvement. Journal of Healthcare Management, 68(5), 342–355.

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