Skip to content
  1. Latest News

Penn Medicine News: Shaping Policy to Measure and Improve Equity in Health Care Systems

From Penn Medicine News: Between 2017 and 2023, the number of Penn Medicine patients who identify as non-binary increased from 14 to more than 4,000. The reason? Providers simply started asking patients about their gender identity. These patients had always been cared for in the system, of course; Penn just worked to add a non-binary gender option to the electronic medical records software. This effort not only focused on gender identity, but was part of a larger initiative to optimize Penn’s capture of patient data on race/ethnicity, ancestry, and preferred language. For Jaya Aysola, MD, MPH, an associate professor of Medicine and Pediatrics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, it’s an example of how seemingly small changes in health care processes can lay the foundation for profound shifts in equity and inclusion. Those steps matter not just for gender and LGBTQ equity and inclusion, but also to make health care more equitable for patients of all racial and cultural backgrounds. “It’s a technical, behind-the-curtain fix, but it has such meaning,” she said, “because you’re identifying people who were never recognized before in your organization, and for the first time these patients are feeling seen within their health care system.” Aysola is also the founder and executive director of Penn Medicine’s Center for Health Equity and Advancement (CHEA). Through CHEA, she has led efforts to bring greater equity to the health system since 2015 — years before equity and inclusion became major priorities for improvement in other health systems. Now, Penn Medicine’s efforts are helping provide a road map for policy for equitable health care, with a new statewide program that issues incentive payments to hospitals for taking key steps for equity.

Implementing a Health Equity Plan within a Health System

That work is a long way from where CHEA started. In 2016, Aysola was named the inaugural associate designated institutional official (DIO) of health equity and inclusion, within the graduate medical education (GME) office, and tasked with looking for ways to develop greater equity and inclusion in the resident training program at Penn Medicine, in response to a mandate from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). But making real progress required expanding the program’s mission, since equipping physicians in training to advance equity means making change within the larger health care ecosystem. Read more at Penn Medicine News.