WORDS MATTERDecember 13th, 2022
Early Lessons from the Healthcare Equity Consult Service
Inequities in our health system existed long before COVID-19, but the pandemic taught us that we had to address them now. One step in that direction is U-M Health’s new Healthcare Equity Consult Service, launched in August 2022. The service accepts consult requests from faculty, staff, patients, and families who feel that the patient’s care may have been affected by bias, inequities, or perceived discrimination of any kind.
The Healthcare Equity Consult Service is also part of our UM Health BASE Strategic Priorities for FY 2023 to improve Belonging and inclusion, Access, Safety and quality, and the Experiences of employees and patients.
This first-of-its-kind consult service consists of a multi-disciplinary team of physicians, case managers (social workers and chaplains), nurses, and other staff who triage requests and provide recommendations to the care team. Recently, Headlines had a chance to speak with the case managers.
I am amazed at how much the team has accomplished in a few short months and all they have learned. One common theme from these early cases indicates words really matter when working with patients and families.
The words we use are the basis of a narrative that forms and carries weight throughout the patient care journey. For example, misgendering a patient can be emotionally devastating. A patient with chronic pain labeled as drug-seeking in their medical record can feel the stigma every time they see a healthcare provider. They may even be denied advanced lifesaving therapies due to these words and narratives.
With a little effort, we can make a difference and reduce the inequity some of our patients, families, and even our faculty and staff may be experiencing.
Numerous resources are available to use more inclusive language in writing, speaking with and about our patients, faculty, and staff.
- Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts | AMA (ama-assn.org)
- UM Health Inclusive Language Resources
- Michigan Medicine Guide to Inclusive Communication
- American Psychological Association Inclusive Language Guidelines
I also encourage all of us to use the skills we learned through our journey to High Reliability. Most importantly, as caregivers, we must listen to our patients and continuously work to build our capacity for empathy and understanding. Utilizing these skills, we can continue to uphold our mission to advance health to serve Michigan and the world.
In our patient care environment, we know words matter. Share a moment when your words made a difference in the discussion box below.
I believe one of the most overlooked disabilities within the University are Eating Disorders. We are constantly slammed with health and fitness from every avenue possible, despite eating disorders being the deadliest mental health disorder. While often believed to be a disorder of children and young adults (as evidenced by the lack of care available to adults in this area, and across the country), this simply isn’t true. As an employee in eating disorder recovery who is still constantly struggling, I truly hope that Michigan Medicine will take a more inclusive approach in the future regarding “health and fitness”, in a way that doesn’t alienate a growing number of ED sufferers.
Kelsey, you are correct that our eating disorder treatment program only serves patients up to 22 years of age. That gap in our services is disappointing and something we should consider expanding but the HECS team does not address these types of issues. For adults seeking expanded services, our Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience (OCWR) offers in-person support, video or phone sessions, and support groups for Michigan Medicine faculty and staff. There is also the Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Services (FASCCO) These organizations also recommend professional community resources for those who might struggle with eating disorders. In addition, MHealthy offers its Nourish Your Whole Self, built on the concepts of Intuitive Eating. While these programs do not take the place of having a more extensive adult program within our organization, it does offer resources to those who reach out. I appreciate you bringing this concern to our attention.