Today we get a healthcare equity advocate’s perspective on healthcare from Justin Ayars. Located in Richmond, Virginia, he is a millennial (Generation Y.) A former healthcare attorney, he is the founder of equalityMD, a company dedicated to bringing healthcare equity to the LGBTQ+ population. His official title is somewhere between healthcare entrepreneur and LGBTQ+ healthcare advocate.
Here are 3 things that stood out as Justin Ayars presented a healthcare equity advocate’s perspective on healthcare:
· 70% of the LGBTQ+ community believe that mental health is their primary healthcare concern
· For a variety of reasons, certain populations are reticent to be their authentic self with their healthcare provider which has a direct impact on the quality of healthcare they receive
· The definition of quality healthcare is subjective and may vary from patient to patient
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Here is the transcript of Justin Ayars: A Healthcare Equity Advocate’s Perspective on Healthcare:
Rob Oliver: Thank you. And I appreciate you being with me today. Today, I have Justin Ayers with me. He is a former attorney. He is a healthcare entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of Equalitymd.Com. He is a millennial based in Richmond, Virginia. Justin, welcome to the show, man.
Justin Ayars: Thank you very much for having me happy to be here.
Rob Oliver: Absolutely. So tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in health care, please.
Justin Ayars: Sure. Well, about twelve years ago, just before the Great Recession, I was working in DC as a healthcare trial attorney on the dark side, the defense side defending insurance companies and hospital systems. And then as a young attorney, when the recession really kicked into high gear, all the young attorneys were given the boot and told to find something else to do. I come from a very artistic family, my family, all musicians in showbiz, and I was crazy to go to law school. So when I decided what to do next, I thought, let’s just dive into something new entrepreneurials. And I figured that would be a great way to marry my clinical logical education. And then with my disposition over the years did various things turned to me company based in Atlanta, Virginia, into a data analytics company and then went through a tech entrepreneur accelerator called Lighthouse Labs in the fall of 2019 and came out of that in 2020. And right as we launched our minimum viable product, the beginning of our work rating ecosystem for data analytics and Kobe changed the world as we all know. And I swore back when I left or was told to leave the practice as a healthcare lawyer. But I never go back to health care again. But when the Copic pandemic really caused me to reevaluate my business opportunity and a potential to answer with quite resolution determination, the problem that I’ve been having my entire life and that many in my community been having as part of the LGBTQ plus community, where can I find a medical provider where I feel safe? I’ve been asked that my entire life as a human being and as some of the people go to as a counselor and I’ve never been able to provide an answer. And I thought, what better timing than this global pandemic and to address this head on and other health care inequities that our current hospital model system faces and try to fix them as best I can. So I’ve created equality indeed, where we have a tech platform like Match. Com that matches patients with inclusive personalized health care providers who have been trained in LGBTQ cultural competency.
Rob Oliver: Okay, so can you talk to me a little bit about what is it that sets the practitioners who are on the Equality MD site apart from others? You said that they’ve got to be trained. Can you talk to me a little bit about that training and what else goes into the qualification process, so to speak?
Justin Ayars: Sure. Well, we’re starting with mental health because 72% of our community believe that that is the primary health care concern. Back in 2016, the National Health designated to help disparity population. And by definition, that means they have unique healthcare concerns and a historic lack of access to care coupled that with historic discrimination. And you have a whole community of people, very diverse community that touches on every other demographic out there that is not getting the care they need. Or more often the case, if they do go to a health care provider, they’re not being their authentic self. And if they’re not being your authentic self with your provider, how can they know what’s going on with you, whether it’s biologically, chemically or mentally? How can they treat you properly? And that’s always been the concern that goes for everybody. And so the training part is cultural competency education that our partner Outcare Health provides. They’ve been doing this since 2015. They’re the nation’s Premier LGBTQ cultural competency training organization for the medical community. While we’re focusing on mental health, they do training for every practice out there, from pediatricians and dentists to physical therapists and mental health, and we’ll eventually be incorporating different practices into our platform. But we’re starting with mental health because that really touches upon every other aspect of health care out there, and it’s often under aggressive. And what showed us mental health is a huge concern not just for our community but all communities. The training involves giving providers the understanding and education, the history of the community, the discrimination experience, how to create a safe space where patients can feel they can be their authentic selves and receive the compassionate care they deserve, whether that means utilization of pronouns and what it means to be cisgender versus transgender versus nonbinary, what different sexual orientations are out there and how different identities and life experiences play into one’s mental health or physical health. And that goes beyond social terms of health, which are big hot topic right now. But beyond that, you have to take a person’s unique life experiences into account and their identities.
Rob Oliver: Got it. What does quality health care mean to you?
Justin Ayars: That’s a really important question, because it’s entirely subjective and that’s critical because right now the way that the hospital system is structured, I keep calling it that because it’s almost as if it’s a Corporation. We’re all part of whether it wants to be or not, and it’s not an objective definition. We are individuals, and every individual brings with them a set of experiences and understandings and opportunities and problems and concerns that health care professionals need to address. And we need to look at the term quality care subjectively. And so by addressing the patient as an individual rather than just patient number two, on Tuesday this month of November, we’re able to as providers look at the individual and say, okay, well, this person comes from this racial background, socioeconomic background, educational background that might have an influence on how they are maneuvering through life in a way that’s different from the patient I saw earlier this morning. And how can I address that person’s needs in a way that makes sense not only address them but communicate with them as a provider, not to them as someone in an Ivory tower. And that’s the really important part is that personalization of care, which makes the quality.
Rob Oliver: It’s interesting to hear you say that because from my perspective, as a person with a disability, so many times, providers see me as a diagnosis rather than as a person. And there’s a focus there that gets missed. And I think you’re saying something that’s very similar to that in which the focus is not on the person, not on their background, circumstances, surroundings, history, but it’s on something other than that. And if you’re not focusing in the right place, you’re not providing the quality of care that the individual needs. Can you give me an example of quality health care?
Justin Ayars: Sure. My brother is a good example. My brother identifies as his gender homosexual. He lives in DC area. He’s a high school music teacher and was just very happy living up there. And he had a medical provider that he saw in the DC area he loved for over a decade. That provider ended up picking up and moving to California somewhere for some other opportunity. And my brother couldn’t find a medical provider that he felt comfortable with. My brother is someone who we all knew was David’s little kid to see these cartwheels coming into home plate during Little League and has always worn a sexual orientation on his lead. But when it comes to the patient provider relationship, that’s something sacred. And he took him the most out person I’ve ever met and most comfortable within his own skin six months to find the provider that he felt comfortable coming out to, because that’s a very different relationship than any other out there. So to have him find somebody that he could be himself is the ideal definition of quality of care. Now, that’s just one instance in microcosm the macro issues, because there are other countless people out there who have that same problem. I know people in Illinois couple who drive 6 hours to Chicago to find the provider that they feel comfortable with, and that’s just not acceptable. The definition of our example would be having someone to feel comfortable with being yourself. And sometimes that’s hard to find.
Rob Oliver: Okay. And this is a difficult question because I’m asking you to answer for your brother. Do you know what was it about the provider that he found that made him feel comfortable there. Can you speak to that at all?
Justin Ayars: Only from what my brother told me, we’re very different. People often say. My brother always tells me he’s never wrote my gift card because I don’t fall into stereotypical patterns. But again, it’s all about the individual. What the provider did to make him feel comfortable wasn’t putting up rainbow flags everywhere. But it was addressing him first by saying, what are your preferred pronouns? Even just saying that is a huge indication that this individual, as a medical provider, understands that there are aspects about people identifying traits, personalities that they choose to identify with or not that may help create an environment that is one in which they can be their authentic selves and then actually get the care they deserve as a human being. That for him, was an indicator because he’s never been asked that question before. But even though he’s not identifies, it’s just gender as the majority of the people do, just asking that question set the tone for the entire rest of the relationship.
Rob Oliver: Got it. What do you wish people understood about your role in health care?
Justin Ayars: It’s a big concept we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make that sacred patient provider relationship less clinical, more personal. In short, we’re trying to put humanity back into health care, and we’re trying to do that through technology and compassionate training. And the two are not usually exclusive. People think tech companies of their golf doing this and some machine out there doing this, and they’re matching me with this like a dating thing. And it’s not a really good compatible. It’s not like that with us. We need to be able to have that compassion. And we do because we have lived those experiences. Our team is majority LGBTQ plus, identifying come from all backgrounds, all walks of life, and we know the problems that we’re solving because we had to go through them ourselves. And it took the pandemic, unfortunately, to help us come together from all over the world. Working on this kind of pandemic is a big inflection point, and the silver lining of all the bad that came out of that is that hopefully we’ll be able to provide a solution for people in need that’s affordable and accessible and provides the kind of care that people deserve.
Rob Oliver: Thank you. What excites you about the future of health care?
Justin Ayars: First of all, in fact, we’re having this conversation. It’s exciting to share our vision of inclusive personalized health care because we’re challenging the norm. We’re challenging the system if you want and giving people the idea of hope that they, through technology and through training, provider training methods will be able to have control over their own healthcare stories, not just control over it, but become the superheroes of their own healthcare story. That excites me that level of choice, of comfort and of empowerment. No longer do people have to hide in the shadows they can feel strong about who they are, comfortable about who they are and confidently say, I am the superhero of my own healthcare story, and my provider is here to serve me. That’s a wonderful way to change people’s perception of and how they interact with healthcare.
Rob Oliver: Again, it’s really interesting to hear you say that because one of the things that I think sometimes people have felt, I don’t know, disempowered or powerless in the medical contract in which you go to the doctor and the doctor tells you what the diagnosis is and tells you what the treatment is and gives you the plan, and you are kind of left to follow what it was that was given to you. And you’re talking about the patient having power in that and not just having power in it. But you’re saying being a superhero, having superpowers and in that way, being really a driving force in the whole interaction and in the relationship. And that’s truly a paradigm shift. And yet it’s vital. And I would completely agree with what you’re pointing out.
Justin Ayars: I would ask, why have we allowed that shift to happen? But the fact that we’re having this conversation is a step in the right direction. It’s not going to happen overnight, but just giving people hope and the knowledge that they have options.
Rob Oliver: Yeah, very true. What is one thing medical professionals can start doing today to improve the quality of health care?
Justin Ayars: I would start by giving them the one word answer I gave to everybody. Be curious. Be curious about your patients. Be curious about who they are, how they identify what their life experiences from what their social terms are. Be curious about how you can better educate yourself through cultural competent training sessions or other kind of educational trainings that go beyond what you got in Med school so that you can provide the level of care that you probably as a good individual as most medical providers are want to provide might not know how. For example, just because you’re a medical provider who selfidentifies as LGBTQ plus does not mean you know how to create the environment. That’s a safe place for other LGBTQ plus individuals. And that’s a really strange thing to say. But it’s true without that curiosity of how to create that environment, and then with receiving the training, having the ability to say, I don’t know or even better, I’m curious and want to learn more. I might be great, but is there more out there? Who are these patients? How can I better treat them? How can I be a better provider? Be curious.
Rob Oliver: I love that. I think it’s a very powerful way to end our time together. And I will just make this comment. That just because I have a disability doesn’t mean that I understand the life path of every other person that has a disability, just because I have what I call an advanced degree in Rob-Ology, right. I have the study of Rob. That’s where I am. That’s what I understand. And I need that to be respected by the medical practitioners that I interact with. But I also cannot be so arrogant as to believe that I stand for all other people with disabilities in my understanding as well. So listen, Justin Eric, thank you very much for being on here. I’m delighted to have this conversation with you, and I really appreciate you sharing your perspective on healthcare.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed by guests on the Perspectives on Healthcare Podcast are solely the opinion of the guest. They are not to be misconstrued as medical diagnoses or medical advice. Please consult with a licensed medical professional before attempting any of the treatments suggested.