Richard L. Martin III, MD, MPH, spoke on the goals he has in his new role as medical director of health equity and community engagement at Tennessee Oncology, and what lessons he has learned so far in providing care to underserved communities.
Focusing time, effort, and commitment to delivering on health equity in underserved communities is a unique opportunity to meet the care needs of patients both in the clinic and where they live, said Richard L. Martin III, MD, MPH, medical director of health equity and community engagement at Tennessee Oncology.
You were recently appointed as director of health equity for Tennessee Oncology. What goals and priorities do you have in this new role?
I am very excited about my new role as medical director of health equity and community engagement. I think first, just to acknowledge what a unique opportunity it is for a company to develop this role, which was the vision of Natalie Dickson, MD, our president and chief strategy officer.
Having this permanent role shows a structural intentionality to putting time, effort, and commitment to delivering on health equity. It's also going to allow us to build capacity and longitudinal relationships with our partners.
Some of the goals that I will have in this role, in alignment with our executives at Tennessee Oncology, are really best reported as domains—those being patient-centered care where every patient can feel included; having the patients and community members as stakeholders; establishing health equity for all people, including our own employees, which means workforce culture, training, and hiring; establishing a research to practice pipeline; and then building out those internal medical partners, as well as community partners in order to start chipping away on social determinants of health.
As a hematologist/oncologist, what has been your experience with patients facing equity-related issues, and how will these lessons influence your work in your new role?
One of the first things that I've noticed is that a lot of people have an overemphasis on barriers that are outside of our control, which leads to futile thinking about being able to address accessibility. And I found in my experience working at Meharry Medical College, at National General Hospital, and also through my residency training prior working at homeless shelters and other settings targeting vulnerable populations, that a lot of the barriers are local and quite modifiable.
Thinking even just recently, some of those solutions may include things like telehealth to reach remote populations; in-person interpreters or developing more multilanguage materials for patients; welcoming signage, not just for people of different cultures, but even sex and gender minorities; and thinking in terms of patient and provider support tools to address social determinants of health in our workflows.
It's why I'm really excited to be with Tennessee Oncology, who has 34 clinics and growing, and a business model about meeting patients in the communities where they live, and they're also a company that sees all patients regardless of insurance.