The healthcare system has faced significant challenges ensuring all patients of various backgrounds receive quality, reliable access to care. While leaders and organizations have made strides to make institutional change happen in recent years, advancing health equity is ultimately a long-term journey for the healthcare ecosystem.

During a sponsored MM+M podcast, digital editor Jack O’Brien and Muna Tuna, EY U.S. market access, pricing and reimbursement leader at Ernst & Young, discussed pharma’s role, responsibilities and opportunities in addressing disparities along the journey.

Engaging stakeholders

Certain populations are underdiagnosed, undertreated or disproportionately impacted by chronic, life-threatening conditions and diseases. Research at Ernst & Young (EY) shows that not only is there “a historical context to reckon with, but also ongoing societal, economic and education-related issues that represent barriers,” Tuna said. As a result, a substantial part of the population is “more than likely achieving suboptimal outcomes, results, experiences.”

Pharma companies have an opportunity to redefine their relationship with stakeholders and close the gap in care. As healthcare becomes more patient- and consumer-centric, it’s imperative for pharma to “enhance the patient interactions, the experience and the level of trust they have,” she said.

Incorporating health equity into the ecosystem is critical. Think about what it means to the business, strategic imperatives, and development and commercialization of products, she advised. Given the continued emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) within healthcare, it’s also important to consider the value of health equity to society as a whole.

To influence stakeholders, pharma companies need to start from the inside out. First, “embed actionable health equity insights into the overall commercialization process,” Tuna said. Second, “incorporate health equity into the broad commercialization process, patient and market access strategies and execution because access is a huge part of the challenge.” The next steps are to deliver a frictionless end-to-end patient experience, and measure and articulate the value of health equity, she explained.

Working with a range of external stakeholders, EY has found that “there’s no singular orchestrator of the patient journey,” Tuna said. Which means there is a real opportunity for pharma to “be the amplifier in bringing all of these stakeholders together by strategically partnering with the stakeholders.”

Pharma can help ensure that health equity is an integral part of day-to-day operations from “developing and launching new products to designing new patient solutions and engaging with patients,” Tuna said. Data will help brands “understand the gaps in health equity and drive actionable insights to bridge those gaps,” she added. In addition, omnichannel patient strategies will help brands address the gaps, and designing and scaling digital solutions will drive real-world access to care, she said.

Driving impact on health equity

Deeply understanding the journeys of racially, ethnically and socially diverse patients will help pharma brands accurately address health equity. Factors beyond race and ethnicity including education and socioeconomic level impact the specific patient journey and access. Keep in mind each patient journey is unique in the context of the disease, experience, ability to navigate healthcare, access to specialists or diagnostics, and culture.

“Companies who drive health equity insights into their existing processes and decisions are going to be in the best position to address the unmet needs and capitalize on the long-term value, the societal and also financial value,” Tuna explained.

It’s critical that pharma companies focus on “driving patient access and building long-term value by advancing health equity as a driver of it,” she said. Her parting advice for pharma brands: Leverage real-world data, take an experience-led approach to commercial transformation and build strategic partnerships and collaborations throughout the ecosystem. That “will go a long way toward driving resiliency for both the organization and more importantly, underserved communities,” she concluded.