Reaching the “Heart of the Community” – Addressing Inequities in Women’s Imaging

Whitney J. Palmer

Meg Eckenroad, Hologic’s vice president of women’s health, discusses the motivation and goals of the new $20-million Project Health Equality.

Last week, Hologic, Inc., announced a new $20-million, three-year initiative designed to dismantle the racial disparities that exist for women in the U.S. healthcare system.

Called Project Health Equality (PHE), this group will fuse Hologic’s expertise and resources with that of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, and RAD-AID. This three-pronged effort will address inequities for Black and Hispanic women through research, education and awareness, and efforts to increase access to care.

Diagnostic Imaging spoke with Meg Eckenroad, Hologic’s vice president of women’s health, about the motivation behind the initiative and how this coalition of organizations intends to reach its goal of better care for women in minority groups and in underserved areas.

Diagnostic Imaging: What was the impetus behind creating this initiative?

Eckenroad: In 2019, we were really looking at some of the disparities that were happening across the country and the quality, or lack thereof, of services for Black and Hispanic women. There were technology deserts of care – and it wasn’t just with our technology. It was true, in general. When the disparities are there and the access is limited, you see poor health outcomes for Black women, Hispanic women, and other women in low-resource settings.

When a woman is not healthy or in a good spot, she’s not able to take care of her family or loved ones. She’s such an integral part of the family network and the community, in general, that she really is the heart of a heathy community. If she’s not healthy, then she’s not contributing. That really was where we saw some challenges across the country. It was getting more challenging for these women to have access to care, and we realized we had to figure something out to do differently.

We started talking to our partners in early 2019 and 2020 to get their opinions on what would work and what wouldn’t work so that, as we were making this project a reality, we were taking their feedback into consideration. Our partners, such as the Black Women’s Health Imperative, have been very instrumental in helping us look at where we needed to focus.

Meg Eckenroad, Hologic's vice president of women's health, discusses the motivations behind Project Health Equality.

Diagnostic Imaging: What does Hologic see as its responsibility in taking on this leadership role?

Eckenroad: We’ve always had this natural synergy with Women’s Health Week, and we want to make sure that women everywhere are leading healthier lives. We lean into that mission 365 days a year. It is the very purpose and passion and promise that we live, and that was really the impetus for this whole thing. We see these pockets where women are not living healthy lives, and we want to explore what we can do about it.

Related Content: Hologic Announces $20-Million Initiative to Address Racial Health Disparities

Diagnostic Imaging: How is this initiative going to work? Who are your partners, and what will be the activities?

Eckenroad: We have three pillars in this program – research, education, and awareness. But, we also have access to care. It’s a multi-faceted project that will play out over three years – because you can’t just do this in one day and think you’ll be able to impact change. With education and awareness, we really took a very methodical look at this to make sure we have culturally sensitive marketing messages and pieces that help women understand the importance of taking care of their health. What speaks to one woman is not necessarily the same message that’s going to speak to another woman. The avenues we use to generate awareness are also different in the community.

We’re looking at what’s working and what’s not working, determining where we need patient navigators – those women who are trusted sounding boards in the neighborhood. We need to engage them so women can see other women like them advocating for their health in messages that speak to that community. That’s a lot of the work we’re doing with the Black Women’s Health Imperative and the National Hispanic Health Alliance to make sure that we’re getting messages that resonate.

Interestingly, that’s also going to be part of our research. We’ll investigate how well these messages and the tactics we’re using work and if they’re actually increasing the number of women that come in to get screening, especially now during the pandemic. That’s a measurement we’re going to examine closely. In addition, what are the tools we’re putting into these access care sites that help women get from screening through diagnosis to treatment faster. Is the inclusion of a patient navigator as their partner through their journey helping expedite that time from screening to treatment?

We do know a big disparity in these communities is when a woman gets screened and an abnormality is identified – fibroids or cancer – it can take an extra-long time for that patient to get from screening to treatment. How does having a nurse navigator or patient navigator or both impact or accelerate that journey?

And, then, for access to care, we are working with our partner that has a very thoughtful and objective way of looking at the areas across the country that are in need of care. We picked three partners that have things we don’t have in our company that complement our expertise. They have measures and a vetting process to ensure our efforts are sustainable.

Diagnostic Imaging: What is the ultimate goal for this initiative?

Eckenroad: The impact is helping more women have a more positive experience with the health system or their community clinic. The health system is a very big world, but the community clinic or their experience with health providers is more personal. Getting more women in to take care of themselves – whether it’s screening for breast or cervical cancer or just a well woman exam – is so important. The measure of getting more women in is really important for us. Getting new people to engage in their community clinics and in the health system is one of our biggest goals.

Diagnostic Imaging: Is there a benchmark for what success might look like?

Eckenroad: We are in the process of looking at that based on each community because each one is very different. As the sites come on board, we will have all of them be part of that process.

Right now, we have three sites up. We’re looking at negotiating seven, and as soon as all those sites come up, we will create a big goal, and they will each of have their own goals, too, for increasing the number of patients.

Diagnostic Imaging: Are there any obstacles or challenges you foresee to reaching that goal?

Eckenroad: One of the challenges is making sure that the messages we’re using actually work. We’re going to fail sometimes, and that’s part of any project during the initial year. We’re going to find out what’s working and what’s not. But, so far, we haven’t seen those big obstacles that usually come along. We’re anticipating they will come because they always do, but right now we’re in the early phase.

It’s just important to remember the significance of the program. It’s taking an approach that will help bring down disparities that Black and Hispanic women encounter in the health system. We want to a make a difference through working with our partners, and we hope that this grows over time. If so, that’s a win. And, if we can get more women to have a better experience with the health system and actually get the healthcare they need, then, that’s a win, too.

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