Taking off my Healthcare Consultant hat and putting on my patient hat is tough for me. Long gone are the days when I could step into a healthcare facility without wondering if it has a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy that includes patients, workforce, and community needs, is aligned with the strategic objectives, and has measurable outcomes to increase health equity and decrease health disparities. I know that this may sound strange. But because it is what I do all day, my reality takes over even when all I want is to be a “regular” patient.
Let me share an experience that I had as a patient at a Chicago-area hospital. When I entered the facility, the receptionist directed me to Patient Registration. “So far so good,” I thought. When I walked around the corner, I saw a long row of cubicles against a wall. Each cubicle had a desk with two huge computer monitors. When I got a little closer, I saw that people were sitting on the other side of the monitors, but their faces were not visible.
After sitting down in a cubicle, a voice from behind the monitors asked me for my name and appointment time. I answered. The voice then asked me for my Social Security number. When I explained that I was not comfortable saying it out loud in a room full of people, the voice slid a piece of paper and a pen across the desk and told me to write it down. I complied. Next, the voice asked me for my race. I could have told the voice without incident, but the Healthcare Consultant side of me wanted to know if the voice understood the data’s relevance. So, I asked the voice why knowing my race was important. The voice responded, “I don’t know. I just have to ask.” I replied, “Well, it must be important if the hospital is asking.” The voice said again, “I don’t know if it is, but if you don’t want to answer it, I can skip it. It doesn’t really matter.” I said, “I will tell you because it is important.” A similar exchange happened when the voice asked about my ethnicity. I answered, thus completing my patient registration.
I am sure that you, like me, identified several issues with this patient registration moment. From avoiding eye contact with me to not explaining why data collection was important, the voice missed several opportunities to encourage me to share this information. I provided the information despite this troubling exchange because I knew as a Healthcare Consultant the importance of 100% REaL (Race/Ethnicity and Preferred Language) data collection. I know healthcare organizations use it to understand who walks in their doors. I know this data is important for workforce and community comparisons. I know this data helps to define diversity, create an inclusive environment, and increase cultural competence. And I know that collecting SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) data in addition to REaL data is a best practice for diversity and inclusion. I also know that without this data, increasing health equity and decreasing health disparities is hard to do. That is why I wanted to see if the voice understood why it was asking the questions, and more importantly, why I answered them.
I admit that my healthcare consultant and patient hats were blurred in that moment. I couldn’t help myself, though, because contrary to what the voice said, this data really does matter. Fortunately, I can apply my patient experiences to consulting experiences every day. When designing training curricula, I know the significance of not only educating registration staff on the importance of collecting patient demographic information, but can equip them with skills to explain the “why” to patients. When analyzing patient demographic data, I know how to integrate the findings into an organization’s strategic plan. When engaging community partners and leaders, I know what patient information is important for them to understand to achieve their goals.
My experience at that hospital troubled me on several fronts. At the same time, it energized me and reconfirmed why I do this work. Perhaps wearing two hats at one time can be a good thing after all.
To learn more about our work in healthcare or the importance of REaL and SOGI data, contact us at email@example.com. Learn more about our data-based assessment solutions here.
Audra Davis, PsyD, is an Organizational Psychologist who connects research with practice. As a healthcare consultant, she leverages formal training, unending passion and a nearly 20-year track record of successfully developing people and organizations’ potential to bridge where they are and where they want to be. Dr. Davis is Managing Partner and leads the Organizational Development practice at Exeter. For the past several years, her exclusive focus has been supporting healthcare executives in developing culturally-competent and capable workforces. She helps organizations provide quality patient care through diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence strategies and practices.