Document Type: Editorial
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA
In this time of polarization and divisiveness across increasingly diverse communities, health policy and management research offers an important insight: engaging diversity meaningfully through inclusive leadership—that embraces staff across hierarchies and engages difference perspectives so that all healthcare workers of all kinds feel they can speak up and participate—can save lives. In multiple studies of quality in cardiovascular care, top performing hospitals have been shown to exhibit the capacity to embrace staff across hierarchies and engage differences so that healthcare workers of all kinds feel they can speak up and participate meaningfully in improvement efforts. Most recently, in the two-year, longitudinal Leadership Saves Lives study of 10 hospitals, the ability to adopt a culture of improvement rather than blaming was linked to significant reductions in risk-standardized mortality rates. Moreover, the guiding coalitions (ie, quality improvement teams) in six of the 10 hospitals that were most successful were distinguished in three ways that give insight about effective modes of engaging differences: (1) including staff from difference disciplines and levels in the organizational hierarchy, (2) encouraging authentic participation by the members, and (3) using constructive patterns of managing conflict (ie, having clear role definitions, working to surface minority viewpoints, and collectively revisiting the shared goal of saving lives). Based on this literature, adequately engaging a wide range of diverse viewpoints and staff roles can have a marked impact on health outcomes. Although the studies reviewed do not examine racial/ethnic diversity per se, they do lend insight into effectively navigating environments with extensive diversity of perspectives, professional identities, and experiences. Future research may assess whether these insights have application to other forms of diversity as well. In this time of extreme polarization and division globally and locally, health policy and management research has an opportunity to share evidence that could help navigate an increasingly diverse environment, at least within the field of healthcare, towards a more inclusive, humane, and life-giving approach to our collective future.