All patients deserve to see themselves represented in the care they are getting. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is one way to achieve this representation. And even though we have made great strides in improving DEI in healthcare, addressing communication barriers, and creating good communication strategies, there are still employment opportunity disparities that affect the entire system.
Table of contents
- The definition of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
- Communication Strategies in Healthcare
But first, let’s start with the basics: What exactly is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?
The definition of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are closely linked values that support different groups of individuals, including people of different races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, genders, and sexual orientations, according to McKinsey.
McKinsey goes on to say that diversity is about who is represented in the workforce, equity is the fair treatment of all people, and inclusion is about how the workforce experiences the workplace and how they can make meaningful contributions.
Organizations need to be able to implement and maintain long-term goals and strategies in order to provide equitable and accessible services through effective communication strategies in healthcare. Gartner, the technology research and consulting company, has found that “organizations that enact sustainable DEI strategies achieve up to a 20% increase in organizational inclusion.”
Advantages of DEI in Healthcare
A commitment to DEI in healthcare attracts and retains a diverse and talented workforce, saving the costs of high employee turnover.
Organizations that prioritize DEI become more attractive to diverse candidates who seek workplaces that value diversity and offer equal opportunities for growth and advancement. Glassdoor Diversity & Inclusion Workplace Survey found that 3 out of 4 job seekers and employees say a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. As a result, creating an inclusive environment where individuals feel valued and respected increases employee satisfaction and engagement.
They are also able to achieve better financial performance. McKinsey reports that companies with a more gender-diverse C-suite are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability. Their study also found that ethnic/culturally diverse companies were 33% more likely to outperform on profitability. In addition, companies with racially diverse board of directors report 43% higher profits.
An additional study done by McKinsey found that in the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent. The Journal of the National Medical Association also found that innovation, communication, and improved risk assessment were improved by DEI in the workforce.
The University of St. Augustine notes that some of the advantages of having diversity in healthcare are:
- Higher retention
- Improved communication
- Reduced health disparities
- And increased engagement
Communication Barriers in Healthcare
There are many proven benefits to DEI and all of the good it can bring to an organization.
However, there are obstacles in the way of success, like communication barriers in healthcare. Whether they are cultural, linguistic, or otherwise, they decrease the effectiveness of the healthcare system.
Dignity Health notes that there are many ways in which communication barriers can affect healthcare, like confusing handoff materials, unprofessional behavior, and implicit biases. Written and verbal communication is key, and if it is unclear then it can affect patient outcomes. Unprofessional behavior and implicit biases are also large barriers. It can be anything from the position of the staff member or their ethnicity, but it hurts the organization to make assumptions about their coworkers and make unprofessional comments. Biases related to unspoken hierarchy of command structures as well as age and gender affected how healthcare workers communicated with each other. All of which affect healthcare outcomes and DEI.
Another major problem is the lack of communication and DEI training that medical professionals have. While it may not seem as important, communication skills are vital for patients and peers alike and they are severely lacking, says The Brookings Institution. But if they aren’t taught these skills, then they won’t communicate effectively with other staff members and patients, adding on to the health inequities in the community and overall poor communication.
Language barriers can also hinder effective healthcare communication. In a 2023 study, BMC Health Services Research found that the impacts of language barriers on patients include preventable medical errors, low treatment adherence, low health-seeking behavior, additional treatment cost, increased length of hospital stays, and dissatisfaction with healthcare.
Communication Strategies in Healthcare
Effective communication strategies play a vital role in promoting DEI initiatives within healthcare organizations. By implementing a plan to incorporate DEI in communication, healthcare providers can foster a culture that values diversity, ensures equity, and promotes inclusion at all levels. Here are our top 5 DEI initiatives for better communication strategies in healthcare.
Maintaining a sustainable culture of DEI in healthcare requires a long-term commitment and a comprehensive approach. Leadership buy-in and commitment are crucial for driving DEI initiatives. If they don’t really care and commit to DEI, then they can’t expect the rest of the company to follow.
Through their internal communication, leaders should communicate the importance of it. It could be DEI exclusive communications or through the messaging used to communicate with their employees. It is important to set clear goals and expectations, allocate resources, and hold themselves and others accountable for fostering an inclusive culture with patients but also with employees.
The language you use matters significantly and can promote DEI in healthcare.
The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that communities of color, lower socioeconomic status, rural communities, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals are disproportionately exposed to situations and environments that negatively impact health risks and outcomes. This can lead to higher rates of health disparities. If these groups of people feel isolated by the language they hear in their healthcare, then they might feel inclined to skip the doctor which could make their health outcomes even worse.
Some step to overcoming communication barriers in healthcare are using inclusive language while talking to co-workers or to patients. Ensure messaging is inclusive and respectful of diverse identities and experiences. Even when writing communications, use gender-neutral language when appropriate and ask individuals how they prefer to be addressed, like with their pronouns. While collecting information, avoid making assumptions about individuals based on stereotypes and try to approach every person with an open mind.
It is crucial that language barriers are taken care of in order to promote DEI in healthcare, such as professional interpreters or translated material readily available to patients. Use trained interpreters rather than relying on family members or friends to ensure accurate communication. It is important that people are on call and have a way to be reached when a translator is needed, so the implementation of an internal communication platform is useful for that demand.
Personalized Communication Strategies in Healthcare
DEI in healthcare is also about recognizing that not all employees are alike based on the preferences and characteristics of various groups.
Segmentation is a basic technique for building such a program, which fosters diversity if it is used correctly. By learning what motivates each group of employees, offering a customized communication program, and aligning the workforce under a single vision, companies may be able to maximize their shared value of DEI and increase both productivity and sustainability.
Through internal communication strategies in healthcare, you can assign an attribute – like location, languages, and others – to an employee if they have experience speaking a second language so they can be reached if they are needed for a patient. Or if they are particularly interested in DEI efforts, they can receive updates and communications about it. Even something like the way that they get their communication can be catered to.
The next step for developing communication strategies in healthcare would be assessing the current state of DEI within the organization. If you don’t know what the starting point is, then there is no way to measure how much you have grown. It is an effective way to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.
The first step you can take is to communicate the purpose and importance of their contributions. Clearly communicate to employees why their feedback matters. Inform them that it’s an opportunity to improve the workplace and make it more inclusive for everyone. The US Office of Personnel Management says that it is critical to improving performance. Especially if you want to lessen the communication barriers in healthcare, you need to emphasize that the feedback will get used and that it’s vital to the process.
It’s also important to create a safe and anonymous feedback mechanism. Establish a confidential and secure channel for employees to share their thoughts and experiences regarding DEI in healthcare. This can be an anonymous suggestion box, an online survey, or an email address dedicated to DEI feedback.
For instance, in an email blast, add a poll to see if everyone is on the same page or if there might be some room to adjust.
Measure and Track Progress
Establishing metrics and data collection processes to measure progress on DEI goals is especially important for communication strategies in healthcare.
Harvard Business Review says that in order to make lasting progress in DEI in healthcare, organizations need to measure outcomes. With analytics and insights, you can regularly evaluate and report on DEI efforts in internal communication to measure internal effectiveness. Transparently share progress and challenges with stakeholders.
After all of this information is collected, develop a comprehensive DEI strategic plan that aligns with the organization’s mission, values, and goals. Set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives. Ensure the plan has the necessary resources and support for implementation to decrease barriers in healthcare communication.
Healthcare organizations need to be aware of the positive aspects that DEI has on healthcare outcomes for patients and operations for employees.
Some of the benefits of DEI in healthcare include higher retention, increased trust, and increased employee engagement. But in order to get there, healthcare executives need to use more communication strategies in healthcare so they can commit to the DEI results. Measuring communication success, using inclusive language, and buying into leadership make the difference between a distant dream and actual results.
Supercharge your internal communication strategies and break down communication barriers within your healthcare organization. Discover how to foster inclusivity and embrace DEI in healthcare for a stronger, more cohesive team. Take the first step towards a more effective and collaborative work environment.