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CVS exec: People deserve fair shot at being healthy

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun sees care disparities play out routinely as an emergency physician. She hopes her new role with CVS Health gives her more influence to fix those problems before they land patients in the hospital.

The Woonsocket, Rhode Island, company’s first chief health equity officer says she is focused on giving everyone a fair chance to be as healthy as possible, a task made easier by her employer’s broad reach. Millions of Americans do business daily with CVS Health’s drugstores, clinics, prescription processing and health insurance.

Khaldun wants to help CVS Health build trust and connect more people to routine care, all while still practicing medicine part time.

The 42-year-old former chief medical executive of Michigan is one of several chief health equity officers appointed by health care companies in the past year.

She spoke recently with The Associated Press. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: How do health care disparities play out in the emergency room?

A: Particularly in Black and Hispanic communities, people are more likely to have underlying chronic conditions. They’re less likely to have access to a regular source of care. They’re more likely to live in poverty and have challenges taking their medications. By the time they get to me in the ER, they’re having a stroke and it’s too late.

Q: You plan to focus on culturally competent care delivery. What’s an example?

A: Plenty of data suggests that when care teams look like the communities that they serve or have similar experiences, you have better health outcomes. We are looking very closely at the diversity of our provider networks. It’s also thinking about how care is provided. Language, how important that is, preferred language, and what community we are in, what our products look like.

Q: Are there implicit biases in how care is provided?

A: As human beings … by nature of how our brains are designed, we tend to have bias. That does impact the way we make decisions. It’s historically marginalized communities not having their pain appropriately addressed. We know that women tend to not receive the same level of interventions and diagnosis of their cardiovascular issues as men.

Q: In some cases, bias leads to deep distrust. Can you chip away at that?

A: It takes time. People need to understand that the people who are serving them understand them, care and will listen. It’s being transparent about what you’re doing with their data, why you’re making decisions, what they can expect in the future.

Q: How will we know your job comes with real power to enact change?

A: The measure of success will be when we see these disparities closing, when we see community health improving. It’s really exciting to see all the emphasis on health equity. My hope is that this continues.

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