At the nexus between the culture-shifting forces of the pandemic and the movement for racial justice is a watershed inflection point for our industry – when inequity in healthcare became both obvious and undeniable as people of color got sick and died at a shocking rate.

The root causes are no secret. In fact, for years we have described them with a tidy little euphemism: “disproportionately affected.” This dispassionate idiom refers to the unequal rates of morbidity and mortality for underserved demographic groups. It covers the inability by many people of color to access quality care, the most effective treatments and lifesaving health resources. It also explains why, at the height of the pandemic, Black Americans were three times more likely than Whites to contract COVID-19, five times more likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to die from it. The outcomes were almost as bad for Latinx and Asian populations and even worse for Indigenous Americans.

In the midst of the reckoning on racial injustice, inequities in healthcare are now not only undeniable but also joined in public opinion with the ongoing stains of slavery and Jim Crow that must be addressed. After the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, many companies – including those in the biopharmaceutical industry – stepped up and made impressive and substantive commitments.

But that is not enough. The industry needs to make tackling racial inequities in healthcare an intrinsic part of its DNA. Ongoing willingness to set goals to address these issues and communicate progress is now a fundamental component of all healthcare companies’ brands and reputations. Here are some ways to get started:

1. Commit to enhanced diversity in clinical trial populations and share your commitment widely to promote transparency and accountability. To bridge the deficit in the industry’s trustworthiness among people of color, better meet their needs and ultimately improve health outcomes, we need to address the systemic issues that deter them from participating in clinical trials and reduce barriers to trial access. Improving community outreach and health literacy can build trust and increase clinical trial awareness. Consider leveraging telemedicine to make aspects of your trial virtual so you can reach underrepresented patients while reducing the obstacles of distance, cost and availability.

2. Healthcare is broader than medical care. To address health equity among people of color, we must also address social determinants of health (SDOH), which affect their access to care and ability to be properly diagnosed, treated and educated. Programs with traditional and non-traditional partners are already making a difference. You can address SDOH by educating health professionals so they can develop treatment plans that align with patients’ capabilities or by partnering with local patient advocacy groups and health systems to address health literacy at the community level—where it matters most. 

3. Communicate effectively to target audiences, but don’t forget the general public. Conduct primary and secondary research on how to effectively reach communities of color; then relentlessly test your messaging in the channels they use most. Integrated efforts to reach communities through media they trust, the advertising they see, the community leaders and legislators who represent them, along with sponsorships and partnerships with those who can uniquely communicate with them are all critical. Campaigns directed to people of color can no longer live in silos. Today, they must be front and center at every brand touch point. This requires integration across internal functions and across your agencies, with communications, marketing, public affairs and employee relations all telling a coherent narrative across channels – because this is a story in which we all have a stake.

Determine what action you can take that is authentic to your company mission and has the most impact – not just a symbolic gesture of support. Commit to measuring your progress because, as the adage goes, what is not measured cannot be improved. Then update your employees, stakeholders, target audiences – and the public – on your progress. If there was ever a time to act on your corporate values, it is now.

Dxtra Health Integrated Solutions is a global collective of 27 marketing specialty brands and more than 7,000 employees, anchored across Weber Shandwick, Golin, Octagon, Jack Morton, Current Global and Powell Tate. Dxtra Health Integrated Solutions companies bring together unique combinations of in-demand skills and expertise for clients, including experiential, public relations, sponsorships, innovation, brand, influencer, digital, social and analytics.