AMA Issues Health Equity Plan, Confronts Past of Medical Racism

ama issues strategic plan for health equity

By Sara Heath

– The American Medical Association has released its strategic plan for improving health equity, which the organization said would entail an inward look at its own past missteps and plans to be better in the future.

This strategic plan comes after the AMA’s 2019 creation of the AMA Center for Health Equity. Additionally, it comes after a year fraught with a nationwide racial reckoning and commitments from the AMA to address racism in medicine.

“This strategic plan represents a step forward in a much longer journey to ground the AMA, health care, and our nation’s health care system around equity with a vision of achieving optimal health for all,” AMA President-Elect Gerald E. Harmon, MD, said in a statement.

AMA said it envisions a future in which all people, regardless of race, have the same opportunity to achieve optimal health and wellness. Part in parcel with that will be giving medical providers the tools to deliver optimal care, whether that be tools to deliver medicine or tools to practice health equity and cultural competence.

AMA said it would use internal performance indicators to hold itself accountable in this pursuit.

READ MORE: AMA Calls for COVID-19 Vaccine Data To Ensure Racial Health Equity

“Embedding equity is an all-hands-on-deck effort that will enable AMA to further our impact on behalf of all people in our country—but especially those who have historically been marginalized,” said AMA CEO and executive vice president James L. Madara, MD. “AMA leaders are creating opportunities to embed equity into our ongoing work so that equity serves as an accelerator of everything we do to improve the health of our nation.”

AMA’s strategic plan follows five guiding principles it said will help it tackle the biggest health equity challenges facing the industry today. Foremost, the organization will embed equity and racial justice in everything it does, acknowledging that there is a health equity lens for every healthcare problem. Particularly, AMA gave a nod to embedding health equity into health IT innovations.

Additionally, AMA will partner with physicians from traditionally minoritized groups. AMA plans to elevate their experiences and input in future initiatives.

Fourth, AMA plans to give physicians the tools to address and knowledge about the social determinants of health that have thus far contributed to racial health disparities.

Finally, AMA said it will work to reconcile with its own racist past, specifically forging pathways to healing and reconciliation, the group said.

READ MORE: AMA Health Equity Fellowship to Address SDOH, Health Disparities

That final point is particularly important, Harmon said.

“As leaders in medicine, we commit to accountability toward the goal of eliminating inequities —systemic, preventable, and unjust differences—in the health of our patients,” he explained. “Fulfilling the AMA’s mission of promoting the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health requires us to use our resources, influence, and power to push toward a more equitable future, which also means reversing the historic harms we caused and forging paths towards truth, reconciliation, racial healing, and transformation.”

AMA designated a portion of the strategic plan to confronting its own explicit and implicit past, something it asserted was essential to moving forward.

“Archival silence is the unintentional or purposeful absence or distortion of documentation of enduring value, resulting in gaps and inabilities to represent the past accurately,” AMA wrote in the plan.

“Our equity agenda is also reconciliatory,” it continued. “Some health policies have been a critical vehicle, driving inequity in terms of health care access, quality and safety of care delivery, and with respect to distribution of non-medical resources pertinent to other public policy leading to disparate impact on historically minoritized and marginalized communities’ ability to achieve optimal health.”

READ MORE: AMA Urges More Focus on Social Determinants of Health

The 12-item list—which AMA noted was not exhaustive—outlined past indiscretions with regard to race relations from the AMA. The organization asserted this was an essential step to working toward healing.

The strategic plan for health equity will be a three-year roadmap guided by the five, above-mentioned principles. According to Aletha Maybank, MD, MPH, AMA’s chief equity officer, this could be a disruptive but productive process.

“With this blueprint for embedding racial and social justice, we are dedicated to comprehensively analyzing the structures, systems, policies, and practices that have had harmful impacts within our organization and beyond,” Maybank said in the statement. “Achieving equitable solutions requires disruption and dismantling of existing norms and taking collective action. It also requires a sense of urgency and ambition, and the time is now.”

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