Amgen recently hosted its 9th Health Equity Summit, bringing together a wide range of voices to discuss issues around disparities in health and outcomes. Speakers at the event ranged from Amgen executives to government representatives and healthcare leaders from therapeutic areas such as oncology, cardiovascular disease, and asthma.
“Reducing health disparities has been a priority for Amgen for a long time,” Amgen CEO Bob Bradway says in his opening remarks. “Our mission is to serve patients—not white patients or Black patients, not rich patients or poor patients, but all patients. To achieve our mission, we must do everything we can to make sure that everyone who needs our medicines can get them, and that the people who participate in our clinical trials reflect the diversity of the overall patient populations that we’re trying to reach.”
Here’s a look at five takeaways from this year's summit:
1. Now is the time for action on health disparities
Racial disparities have been part of the healthcare landscape for a long time, but the COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on the differences in healthcare access and outcomes among racial and ethnic minorities. “When it comes to health disparities, the time for talk has passed – we need to move toward action and understanding what works to close the equity gaps,” says Sheila L. Thorne, meeting facilitator and CEO of Multicultural Healthcare Marketing Group.
Judy Brown, senior vice president of Corporate Affairs, and head of Amgen’s Environmental, Social and Governance efforts, noted how Amgen empowers staff to develop grass roots programs while working with outside partners for advancing health equity, improving access to medicines, and addressing minority representation in clinical research. “Health equity is an aspiration, and we all can play a role in working towards that goal,” Brown says. “Let’s put together a framework for how we’re going to start ticking away at this challenge.”
2. No one can solve health inequity alone
The work that needs to be done to achieve health equity cannot be done alone by individual companies or segments of the healthcare industry. A comprehensive solution must be a collective effort, with a wide range of organizations – including those focused on patient advocacy, physician education, health care administration and policy change – empowered to work together toward solutions.
“Together, we can move the needle in addressing health inequities,” says Billy Mitchell, member of the Georgia House of Representatives and president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL). “We recognize the importance of delivering messages that bring health education, care access and hope to our communities through the legislative process, but also through our partnerships. We must acknowledge that this work cannot be done alone or in silos.”
3. Comprehensive biomarker testing vital for health equity in cancer care
Health equity issues are notable in cancer care, with minority populations often experiencing worse outcomes and less access not only to care, but also to important tools like biomarker testing that could help guide therapies for certain cancers. The causes of biomarker testing disparities in diseases like lung cancer are multifactorial, with clinical trial representation, social determinants of health, insurance coverage and general lack of access to cancer screening all playing a role.
Kashyap Patel, MD, CEO of Carolina Blood and Cancer Care Associates and president of the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) spoke about a pilot program he launched in South Carolina called No One Left Alone that addresses many of these factors, including biomarker testing. “The community uptake on biomarker testing is between 25% to 48%, depending on what region you go to,” Patel says. “We reached out to two large partners in the system, and we said, ‘We need to study the disparity between the testing’, and we brought up our testing from 25% to 84%.”
4. Community health workers key to better outcomes in cardiovascular disease
There is growing evidence that the use of community health workers can help prevent cardiovascular disease by addressing social determinants of health and providing important linkages to care. But there is still a significant need for increased funding to support the growth of community health worker programs, research on their impacts, and their sustainability over the long term.
“We know that community health workers are a patient-centered approach in terms of coming from the community, understanding the needs of the community, and being members of the community,” says Yvonne Commodore-Mensah, PhD, MHS, RN, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology; board member, Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA). “We need more sustainable funding to support the critical roles that community health workers play in our communities.”
5. Asthma rates linked to environmental racism, require culturally competent care and education
Higher rates of asthma among minorities in the U.S. are highly connected to broader societal inequities like environmental racism. “Environmental racism is essentially the inequities that we see in the way that many Black and Brown communities live,” says Yanira Cruz, MPH, DrPH, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA). “The substandard housing that many of our communities live in, the limited access to parks and nature, the fact that many housing areas for Black and Brown communities have been designed on contaminated land—that leads to health problems, including asthma.”
Hispanic populations in the U.S. are among those most disproportionately impacted by asthma, and these communities often lack information about the disease, or may be hesitant to speak to their health care providers, which highlights a need for culturally competent care delivery and linguistically appropriate education. “It is important to create a space that is comfortable, that is linguistically appropriate, so that folks understand what is being given to them,” Cruz says.
To learn more about Amgen’s 9th Health Equity Summit, watch the full event here, and watch for further information on our next Health Equity Summit this October as the event moves to twice a year.