Aetna (NYSE: AET) today announced that Wayne Rawlins, M.D., has assumed a new position focused on addressing racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Reporting to the company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Rawlins will serve as the lead clinician focused on identifying areas where disparities exist among minority members and spearheading programs that lead to more equitable health care.
“The appointment of Dr. Rawlins to this important new role as our national medical director of racial and ethnic equality initiatives will further enhance Aetna’s ability to decrease the persistent challenges of disparities in health care,” said Lonny Reisman, M.D., Aetna’s chief medical officer. “Our goal is to ensure that our members receive high quality health care regardless of race or ethnicity. Having a senior level clinician devoted entirely to this effort will help us take many of our programs further as well as gain new insights from research that can lead to better health outcomes for minority populations."
Aetna has established a solid foundation in the realm of racial and ethnic disparities. One of the first insurers to capture race and ethnicity information voluntarily provided by its members, Aetna now has racial and ethnic data for more than six million currently active Aetna members. Additionally, Aetna has implemented care delivery programs that are culturally oriented in areas such as maternal and child health and breast health.
According to Reisman, “We have made progress but there are still significant advances to be made. I’m confident that Dr. Rawlins’ leadership will help us pinpoint the best opportunities to drive positive change and make an impact on the health of our members.” In his new role, Rawlins also will work closely with the Aetna Foundation, which has made racial and ethnic equity in health care one of its key priorities for 2010.
Studies on addressing health care disparities show promise
A recently published study in Population Health Management1 looked at disease management (DM) to better control blood pressure among African Americans, a racial group with a higher prevalence of hypertension and poorer cardiovascular and renal outcomes than white Americans. The study, conducted among African Americans enrolled in an Aetna health plan, examined whether a telephonic nurse DM program designed for African Americans is more effective than a home monitoring program alone to improve blood pressure control. The study concluded that the addition of a DM program employing nurses with cultural competence training, as well as culturally sensitive materials, can improve patient compliance and reduce systolic blood pressure.
Reisman praised this study and noted: “Studies such as this provide Aetna with an opportunity to take the findings, adapt them as necessary, and expand them appropriately across our membership. If this type of research will ultimately help our minority members experience better health, then we clearly need to devote resources to this work. The recent blood pressure study is just one example of the kinds of initiatives that Dr. Rawlins will lead in his new role.”
Additionally, several other recently published studies have identified the economic impact of health care disparities on Americans, including the insured population. According to Rawlins, “There’s a strong business case to be made for eliminating disparities in health care. We simply can’t ignore this issue.”
Rawlins also tapped for NQF role
Based on his expertise in the racial and ethnic equality arena, Rawlins recently was invited to serve as a member of the National Quality Forum’s (NQF’s) Cultural Competency Expert Panel. Established in 1999, NQF is a unique public-private collaborative venture aimed at improving the quality of health care by standardizing the measurement and reporting of quality-related information and by otherwise promoting quality improvement.
Rawlins has served on other national groups associated with reducing racial and ethnic disparities, including the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Subcommittee on Standardized Collection of Race/Ethnicity Data for Healthcare Quality Improvement.
Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving approximately 35.8 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities and health care management services for Medicaid plans. Our customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups and expatriates. For more information, see www.aetna.com.
1. Population Health Management, Volume 13, Number 2, 2010. "Disease Management to Promote Blood Pressure Control Among African Americans."