Dr. Allison Mathews | Community Expert Solutions, LLC

February 14, 2017

Recently, news broke that “Hidden Figures” earned more money in the United States than the movie, “La La Land.”     For those of you who don’t know, “Hidden Figures” is a movie about #BlackGirlMagic — Black women mathematicians who calculated the safe return of several space explorations and “La La Land” is a movie with a predominately White cast singing about falling in love in a predominantly White Hollywood.

We in the Black community are not surprised that “Hidden Figures” did so well in the box office because the movement to support “Black first” is resurfacing. Black buying power has always been a major source of strength — from demanding civil rights to determining how businesses cater to our communities. Even though individuals within the Black community do not have much individual wealth, the collectivebuying power within the Black community reached nearly $1.2 trillion in 2016 according to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth. Ironically, Black people continue to be underserved in most sectors of society, including health care. What if we changed the way we provided health services to the most vulnerable populations, like people with low-income in Black communities, by treating them as powerful consumers?    

One way to treat Black community members as powerful consumers is by catering to them as valued customers. In public health, we can adopt the business principles of customer service to provide specialized service to people receiving subsidized health services. For example, several articles have been published examining why Black men and women do not use pre-exposure prophylaxis aka PrEP, which is a daily pill people can take to prevent themselves from getting HIV. These articles showed that Black community members are expected to initiate conversations with their provider about PrEP. However, the process to access PrEP is long, tedious, and arduous to those who may not have the luxury of transportation, time or money to attend multiple doctor’s appointments, or the ability to complete multiple forms to determine their eligibility for subsidized services. Instead of expecting people to assume sole responsibility for accessing PrEP, those in health care and public health need to ask ourselves what we can do to make the process easier.

Does the current process meet excellent customer service standards that cater to patients as valuable customers? Why do we assume that low-income people in Black communities should exert additional energy to gain access to PrEP rather than providing them with convenience and efficiency? If we want to see larger PrEP use among people in Black communities, we need to make it easier for them to access the medication.

Here are three ways to make it easier for Black community members to access PrEP:

  1. Create automated mechanisms to determine people’s eligibility and enroll them in subsidized health services and auxiliary services.
  2. Hold pharmaceutical companies accountable to their Black consumers by financially supporting efforts to market PrEP in Black communities.
  3. Integrate HIV prevention and treatment services with other health services that may hold greater priority for Black community members (e.g., diabetes, cancer, community violence, etc.).