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Dialogue Backstage Pass: Humana’s Dr. J. Nwando Olayiwola

May 10, 2022

J. Nwando Olayiwola, MD, MPH, FAAFP, will deliver the keynote address on Thursday, June 9 at the 2022 Prevent Cancer Dialogue. Dr. Olayiwola is the chief health equity officer and senior vice president at Humana, Inc., as well as an adjunct professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and College of Public Health.

We talked to Dr. Olayiwola about her work advancing health equity in diverse settings and what she’s looking forward to discussing with attendees at Prevent Cancer Dialogue.

Q: How are you committed to advancing health equity in both the public and private sectors? 

A: America has the highest per capita spending on health care, yet we are near last on access, administrative efficiency, equity and health outcome domains. Black Medicare Advantage members experience worse outcomes than white members in several domains. To effectively address health inequities, public and private sectors must address barriers, such as poverty, racism and discrimination, that prevent people from being able to achieve health equity. Social determinants of health, specifically food insecurity, social isolation and transportation, are also key focus areas for Humana. We must look within these barriers to determine how providing equitable health care can remove barriers and allow all members access to achieve their best health.

It is a health care ecosystem, and no one part causes or can solve disparities. Humana may not have solutions for each barrier, yet we can serve as a convener to determine where the work intersects and ensure ideas work across all environments in the ecosystem.

Q: The theme of this year’s Dialogue is Advancing Health Equity Through Innovation. What role does innovation play in advancing health equity?

A: Innovation is the key to remove barriers and work toward health equity. The root cause of poor health must be addressed, and equal education and access to technology (techquity) as social determinants of health are one root cause. Humana has the unique opportunity to integrate social determinants of health into payment methods. At Dialogue, I’ll be discussing solutions involving payment methods, such as healthy food cards and using artificial intelligence and social risk index, along with removing pharmacy barriers, to advance health equity.

Q: What are major health care organizations, such as Humana, doing to advance health equity?

A: Humana plays a pivotal role in equitable health care. Decisions we make can now assist in removing barriers in the future so all members can reach their best health and achieve their full potential. To advance health equity we must define what it is and measure what we are committed to doing; humbly look internally and identify potential biases, then look externally. Outcome-driven work is key.

One thing I am excited about at Humana is that we are screening people for social needs—asking what social needs are impacting them so we can understand how to give them good health care.

We must speak health equity as a first language, from member phone calls to facilities, and be aware of and responsive to collective member needs. I am proud that Humana has recognized the importance of a large health plan playing a role in health equity. It is not for someone else to do, but for us.

Q: Why are you personally invested and committed to advancing health equity? 

A: As I discussed recently in an interview with Katie Couric, only a very small fraction of patients’ health has to do with what I do in the office. So much of a patient’s life is determined by social and structural determinants of health, such as education, income, environment, technology and more.

Two unique yet separate experiences very early in life influenced my health equity experience and perspective. The first is when I was 8 or 9 and my grandmother had just arrived in the U.S. from Nigeria. She had a mild heart attack on the plane, in addition to other existing health risks. While at the doctor with her and my mom, there was a clear barrier to communicate—the doctor would raise their voice almost yelling to make my grandmother understand. (Volume was not the barrier.) There was also a miscommunication related to her diabetes insulin. My grandmother, while not formally educated, was extremely intelligent, yet vulnerable to these health barriers out of her control. As a young child, this was a first-hand experience of the influence of language, culture and how people receive health.

Later as a medical student, I convened a forum on disparities in breast cancer which raised both my and other’s awareness. Similar disparities also existed related to HIV with increased prevalence in Black and Latin American girls and underserved populations. The ties of linguistic congruency and overall equity became, and still is, a key health focus area that I know is solvable.

I can’t believe I wake up every day and it’s my job to think about health equity. If we’re intentional about it, we will definitely see changes.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Dialogue? 

A: I am most excited to share what major health care organizations can do to meaningfully advance health equity. Beyond that, I’m most excited for exactly what the event advertises—dialogue. Meaningful conversation about health equity through innovation, specifically cancer prevention and early detection, and listening to understand what we are not thinking about but should be. What aspects do we each influence in the health ecosystem so everyone can achieve their best health?

 

Don’t miss Dr. Olayiwola’s keynote address at the  
2022 Prevent Cancer Dialogue: Prevention. Screening. Action. 

Advancing health equity through innovation 
Register today 

June 9-10, 2022
Renaissance Arlington Capital View, Arlington, Va.

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