Spectrum Health signs health equity pledge to address health disparities


Patrick Jones


Spectrum Health has recently signed a national Health Equity Pledge from Heath Evolution Forum to collect and review self-reported data on race, ethnicity, language, and sex (REaLS) from patients over the next three years with the goal of addressing health disparities. 

The health system hopes to use this data to identify disparities to improve health outcomes through an equity lens and implement intervention strategies. 


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In signing the pledge, Spectrum Health agrees to: 

  • Collect REaLS data for 50% of their patient, member, or customer population 
  • Regularly review the REaLS data collected by the top-priority or access metric for 90% of major business lines and/or divisions/departments of adequate size
  • Participate in the Health Evolution Health Equity Learning Lab by sharing data for select measures to identify best practices in reducing and addressing health disparities

The health system joins 40 other organizations across the country to sign this pledge including health plans and health care providers. 

Lynn Todman, vice president of health equity at Spectrum Health, said:

“Our commitment to this pledge will enable Spectrum Health to address variation and gaps in the collection, stratification and review of race, ethnicity, language and sex data. This is essential to gathering the knowledge and insights we need to address health disparities experienced by our patients, members and the communities we serve.”

Richard Schwartz, president of Health Evolution Forum said:

“A concerted commitment to such collection and stratification for all key quality and performance metrics is critical to understanding and, most important, redressing disparities.”

According to Spectrum Health, health disparities in Michigan have long been “endemic” and continue to be an issue today. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans are 1.5 times more likely to die from heart disease than white people in Michigan. Between 2017 and 2019, 520.5 African Americans out of 100,000 died of heart disease whereas 365.6 white people out of 100,000 died of the same affliction. 

Todman said:

“We know that the challenge of health inequities predates the pandemic and is much broader than COVID-19. Spectrum Health’s commitment to Health Evolution, as well as numerous other initiatives, will help move the needle to fairer, more just and equitable health outcomes.”

Health Evolution Forum said — per preliminary 2021 respondent data — that many organizations collect REaLS data, but only 30% regularly review their data they collect. They said these “substantial” gaps limit awareness and ability to implement interventions through a health equity lens and establish accountability mechanisms to address health disparities. 

Mark Smith, a fellow of Health Evolution Forum and founding president & CEO of California Health Care Foundation, said:

“It was important for us to figure out how to address this issue in ways that could resonate with everybody in our health care system, because our health care system doesn’t exist outside the void of the social polarization in our country. Equity is not separate from quality…it is part of quality. One doesn’t have to necessarily agree with my definition of social justice or yours to have equity as a professional aspiration and goal to which we hold ourselves and our institutions accountable.”