2020 Conference Outlook: ‘Health Equity’ Shifts from Conceptual to Concrete

black woman talking during a conference

When we look back at the biggest topics and themes in healthcare this past decade, the social determinants of health is the one that stands out the most. It was the decade where health systems caught on to what community-based clinics and organizations have been doing for years, and started to think differently about their role in helping their patients make choices about the living conditions that drive health. In this time, health system leadership moved from the way of addressing the social determinants of health, to the how.

This shift was replicated in the national conference circuit. Ten years ago, very few conferences centered their themes on the social determinants of health, but today, events solely dedicated to the topic have proliferated. Key events began offering sessions on the “why,” and in the past five years, on the “how.”

So as we start to make predictions about what the healthcare conversation might bring in the next 10 years, let’s look back at some of the 2019 conferences to see where we’re headed. Many conferences began to emphasize the importance of community-centered care, health equity, and systemic and structural racism during keynote presentations. While these topics were prominent on the mainstage, they didn’t necessarily carry through to the breakout sessions – the place where attendees could dig into the “how.”

At the same time, more and more health systems are seeking to take action around how inequities impact health — racism and discrimination; lack of health insurance and unaffordable medical expenses; the growing wealth gap — and how working with communities to address these issue creates better health outcomes and reduces expenditures. The majority of conversations I’ve had at conferences in 2019 have made me confident that in the next few years we will begin to see an influx of sessions on the “how” of health equity:

  • How can health systems address the broader structural policies and systems that prevent individuals and communities from meeting their essential needs?
  • How can health systems dismantle structural racism and other discrimination within their institutions?
  • How can health systems invest their resources and efforts into looking upstream?
  • How do health systems authentically partner with the community and share the inherent power they hold?

With our own conference season kicking off next month, I’m excited to see more and more conferences committed to driving the health equity conversation from conceptual to concrete. Here are my predictions of the conferences this year where we will see that shift will take place:

1. 2020 Community Information Exchange Summit
2. Association for Community Health Improvement 2020 National Conference
3. Institute for Diversity and Health Equity’s 2020 National Leadership And Education Conference
4. Modern Healthcare’s Social Determinants of Health Symposium
5. 9th International Conference on Patient- and Family-Centered Care: Partnerships for Quality, Safety, and Equity
6. The Root Cause Coalition’s 5th Annual National Summit on the Social Determinants of Health
7. Putting Care at the Center 2020
8. All In | Data for Community Health National Meeting
9. IHI National Forum for Quality Improvement in Healthcare

If we don’t start shifting the conversations and conference sessions to the concrete “how” of health equity work, we’re missing a huge opportunity to address the root cause of health inequities and improve health outcomes for all. I’m looking forward to seeing how these health equity topics play out this year. What other conferences are shifting in this direction? Where will you be headed this year? What health equity “how” session would you want to see? Leave a comment below or share here!