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DEI Checklist: Have You Done Your Due Diligence?

September 28, 2021 • Advocacy • Heidi Jannenga

As a leader in the healthcare SaaS space and as the daughter of Austrian and Japanese immigrant parents, the recent focus on implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives makes my heart soar. I know first-hand the well-documented challenges that come with a lack of representation and intentional inclusion, and I’m thrilled to see so many people prioritize these initiatives in new and exciting ways.

We still have a long way to go; addressing the social determinants of health will require a heck of a lot more than quick fixes and standalone conversations. But as healthcare providers, we’re uniquely positioned to make a big difference in the lives of thousands of patients. Not only can PTs directly change up their clinical processes to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and better serve patients, clinic owners and decision-makers can influence the industry using a more business-oriented approach.

Specifically, we can scrutinize whether or not our tech serves patients equitably—and whether or not our business partners are working to improve inclusiveness and accessibility.

1. Partner with vendors who are spearheading DEI initiatives.

You know the saying that two heads are better than one? Though it’s typically used in reference to how people problem-solve together, I still think it’s a good mantra for how people can affect more meaningful change when they work together. When you choose partners in business, it’s important to work with vendors that have core values that align with your own—because while you are gaining benefit from their product or services, you’re also bolstering their company. If supporting DEI initiatives is a priority for your business, then add a task on your diligence list to ask your vendor partners where DEI falls in their business priorities.

Selectively choosing who you do business with is incredibly important; the profile of your company and vendors can actually affect your bottom line and your ability to recruit top talent. That means your market reach—and overall level of industry influence—can be bolstered or diminished by your vendor choices. So, choose a vendor that meets your needs and matches your values; their partnership will help you on your quest to improve inclusion and access in the healthcare industry.

2. Investigate your marketing and advertising agencies.

Marketing (and advertising in general) has always been important to our practices. But, PT marketing has evolved tremendously over the last ten years due to the emergence of digital ad space. Your clinic’s marketing reaches more eyes than ever before—which is why DEI is a marketing strategy must-have. A 2019 Adobe research report revealed that 61% of Americans view diversity as an important element of marketing, and 38% of consumers said they were more inclined “to trust brands that show more diversity in their ads.” Our communities are not homogenous, and your marketing should reflect the diversity we see—especially if we want to effectively attack the 90% problem.

If you’ve outsourced your marketing (a valid solution), look into the agency that you’ve hired and investigate their values and dedication to DEI. We speak best to the communities that we’re familiar with, and the agency should be hiring marketers who come from all backgrounds and walks of life. That should correlate to better, more well-rounded marketing campaigns that resonate with more patients (and result in better outcomes).

3. Use technology solutions that help you provide more equitable care.

Technology is firmly embedded in the healthcare experience—which means it directly affects the patient experience. When evaluating DEI initiatives in your clinic, take a critical look at your software and ask if it meets your patients’ needs. Does your HEP have different language options so patients can refer to their exercises in the language they’re most comfortable with? Is there racial diversity in the models who perform the HEP exercises—and is the vendor actively working to improve the exercise catalogue? That can make a world of difference to patients; seeing someone who looks like you accomplish a goal you’re working toward helps you feel like your goal is possible.

I also encourage you to review your technology through more than just a racial inclusion lense. Consider that some of your patients may belong to the LGBTQ+ community, and that an inclusive EMR software should help you track patients’ gender, sex, and chosen pronouns. Respecting patients’ pronouns tells them that your clinic is a safe space and that they can trust you and put faith in your treatment.

4. If you’re looking into M&A, find an investor or partner whose core values align with your own.

The physical therapy industry has been a hot market for mergers and acquisitions for several years now, and the economic turmoil of last year has only turned up the heat in the kitchen. Cultural fit is a huge factor that contributes to the overall success of an M&A—so much so that it’s best practice to not only ask questions about culture, but really dig deep into organizations’ values and work habits. This is the perfect time to ask potential business partners about their DEI initiatives, because dedication (or lack thereof) to inclusion and advocacy is a hallmark indicator of the type of culture you may be walking into.

The benefits here are twofold. First, you’re increasing the likelihood of a successful M&A maneuver. Your employees—and the employees of the other organization—are more likely to mesh if they’re on the same page regarding the company’s mission and values.

Second, you’re improving the scope and reach of one or both of your organizations—which automatically makes someone a bigger DEI heavy-hitter. By increasing the size of your organization, you improve your market power and industry influence—and by wielding that, you can effect change on a larger scale.

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Social change can feel slow at times. But if many of us work together to make small improvements to our healthcare practice, our cumulative actions will stack up. We can absolutely improve the patient experience across the board and chip away at the social determinants of health. It will take commitment and intention, so let’s get started.

Heidi Jannenga

Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi advises on WebPT’s product vision, company culture, branding efforts and internal operations, while advocating for the rehab therapy profession on a national and international scale. She’s an APTA member,...

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