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Advancing Health Care Equity

The latest thought leadership and insights on advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in health care.

Collaboration: Engaging Patients and Communities to Advance Health Care Equity


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By Christina Cordero, PhD, MPH, Senior Project Director, Healthcare Standards Development

Editor’s note: This blog post is the second in a series highlighting each domain of the Health Care Equity Certification Program.

Advancing equity in health care to ensure all people always have access to safe, high-quality care is both essential and challenging. To make meaningful progress, organizations must embrace and demonstrate Collaboration, the second domain in The Joint Commission’s recently launched Health Care Equity Certification Program intended to recognize hospitals that have established a robust set of structures and processes designed to improve health care equity.

Hospitals that grow strong partnerships with patients, families, caregivers and community stakeholders have a greater understanding of the needs of their patient populations and are better prepared to develop effective structures to address those needs.

Engaging Diverse Patients and Communities 

To improve health care equity, an organization needs to understand and meet the unique needs of its patients and community, and this requires community engagement. Collaborative patient and community relationships enable hospitals to hear directly from patients, families and caregivers, and to foster trust within communities.

Cultivating collaborative partnerships starts with engaging a diverse group of patients, stakeholders and community organizations early and often. Hospitals should create opportunities for engagement that reflect the diversity of their patient populations by including perspectives that vary by:

  • socioeconomic status
  • insurance coverage
  • English proficiency
  • cultural or religious practices
  • physical, mental, communication or cognitive disabilities

No single organization can achieve equity in health care alone. But as trusted organizations and economic anchors within communities, hospitals can engage partners on a personal, community and even systemic level to accelerate progress toward the goal of more equitable health care by aligning organizational priorities with community needs.

Gathering Feedback to Identify Patient-Level and Community-Level Needs 

The Joint Commission’s Health Care Equity Certification Program expects organizations to go beyond demonstrating an understanding of the needs of their patients and communities. Hospitals must use these collaborative relationships and the information gained from them to meaningfully provide more equitable care.

Hospitals likely already have several opportunities to collaborate with patients and external organizations, but may want to use a variety of mechanisms to collect feedback about patient-level and community-level needs, such as: 

  • Collaborate with patient and family advisory committees or community advisory committees.
  • Conduct focus groups.
  • Survey the community to learn the patient’s point of view.
  • Establish channels to solicit feedback from community organizations.

Joint Commission standards are not prescriptive about specifically how hospitals collaborate with patient and community groups, so hospitals can apply methods that have worked for them or incorporate new outreach activities to gain input from the public. Hospitals may need to consider a combination of efforts to serve those with different needs.

Curated Resources to Help with Collaboration

To support organizations working to better engage their patients and communities, we’ve curated a collection of valuable resources, such as:

  • Engaging Patients and Communities in the Community Health Needs Assessment offers a step-by-step process to aid organizations aiming to better engage community members and patients.
  • Community Partnerships: Strategies to Accelerate Health Equity toolkit focuses on developing community partnership strategies that can help expand health care services, eliminate inequities and improve health care equity. 

You can find these resources and others in The Joint Commission’s Health Care Equity Certification Resource Center.

Learn more about The Joint Commission’s new Health Care Equity Certification.

Christina Cordero is a Senior Project Director, Healthcare Standards Development in the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation and Improvement at The Joint Commission.

Dr. Cordero leads standards development projects for new accreditation and certification requirements and survey processes across multiple settings and programs. She serves as a subject matter expert for several topics, including health care equity, antibiotic stewardship and telehealth. Prior to joining The Joint Commission, she conducted basic science and public health research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.