The time is now for Healthcare Research to leverage DE&I

Claire OGrady
The time is now for Healthcare Research to leverage DEI

Only recently came the news that oximeters, measuring patient blood pressure, carry with them a racial bias which means they’re not as effective for ethnic minorities, a potentially catastrophic error during the pandemic that could have been uncovered with more complete research.

It’s an example of how, for too long, we’ve disregarded minority voices. People with different ethnic backgrounds, impairments and neuro-diverse conditions, gender, geographical locations, first languages, social histories, access to and ability with technology have sometimes felt at the edge of conversations between healthcare companies and their stakeholders.

We must challenge each other around the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), and work harder to match words with action. Instead of ambitions, such issues must be central strategic pillars to how we approach work – research, clinical trials, access to medicine, diagnosis, ongoing treatment and continuous marketing communications.

The recent turmoil we’ve all endured has led us to challenge ourselves to break with convention, harnessing the pioneering spirit that our insight industry so badly needs. At Hall & Partners we’ve built a more diverse team, we listen more intently to minority voices, and work in tandem with community groups and organisations such as the BHBIA to develop best practice strategies. Ensuring that every brief that comes in begins with us asking the right questions rather than assuming we already have access to the right answers, and that AI tools and algorithms – often created with in-built bias – are somehow a catch-all panacea.

We all need to challenge ourselves to demonstrate a more proactive mindset, to find bolder solutions and face up to uncomfortable truths. The ability that healthcare and life sciences industries have to transform lives is very often dependent on how well they know all of their customers, all of their potential patients, all of their clients – not just those who form the majority. Every single person is a patient or potential patient.

So, we must know in more holistic ways how diverse groups of patients and their families are impacted by disease, what their myriad needs might be, what questions we are not asking and why, how fairness can guide the way we work. Healthcare is not one-size-fits-all and that’s why DE&I is so vital.

We know that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be admitted to hospital. But instead of accepting that we need to ask why and what that means. We know pre-existing social inequalities can skew the way HCPs deliver care and so we need to ask how to rebalance that. We know life expectancy can be wildly different according to where you live, your family background and education, which makes it even more crucial that the insight industry uncovers data-driven solutions to correct these issues.

Rather than consider such matters late on in the process, we need to embed them in project design from the start and then follow that up with measurable actions. In responding to client demands, our challenge is to put forward diverse population samples, quotas and subsets of populations, pushing partners in the field to be more dynamic. Regulation guidelines and approvals mean that this kind of transformation takes time, but we have to make every patient’s voice heard by capturing minority perspectives.

We (Hall & Partners) think of ourselves as pioneers, always trying to push ourselves – and the industry – in new directions, being more proactive and less reactive so we can inspire transformational conversations. Making panel recruitment more diverse may be more expensive and complex but such investments represent the right thing to do.

Our role is to help unleash the boldness of thought and action that already underpins every healthcare company’s pursuit of life-transforming treatments. We make our clients smarter by challenging them, delivering uncommon insights by taking innovative routes. When it comes to DE&I, we encourage them to think beyond box-ticking to inspire action and demonstrate commitment.

The more we can challenge each client, backing up our words with results, the more we can challenge the entire healthcare industry to factor in diversity into all research.

In the past, the market research industry was sometimes guilty of not seeing the bigger picture because individuals viewed things through the prism of their own mainstream lived-in experience. We didn’t see things as they are because we found it easier to see things as we are. Our challenge – all of us – is to view healthcare without those biased blinkers. We must grasp this opportunity to reach further, see deeper, experience more, engage more fully, enrich our understanding and find better answers together.

Learn more about Hall & Partners' work in the Healthcare space