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Dec 14
Allyson Funk, Head of U.S. Communications and Public Affairs
UCB’s Health Equity First Approach to Addressing Population Health Challenges

At UCB, we see the person, not the disease – and the people who care for them – and aim to address their needs in ways that go beyond medicines. In evolving our healthcare system to be more sustainable and emphasize affordable and equitable access, we have much to do across patient populations. One aspect of this is understanding the care journey, including social determinants of health that exacerbate health inequity and prevent people from achieving the best possible health outcomes. A healthcare system that supports sustainable, affordable, and equitable access is one that tackles the important issues impacting health equity. 

Population health is an important aspect of understanding the needs of people living with severe diseases, including underserved patient populations. Our population health teams work with a wide range of stakeholders to help patients and address their needs in ways beyond medicines by providing programs and resources across therapeutic areas in the U.S. 

We asked population health leads across the disease areas where we work - Bone Health, Epilepsy, Immunological Diseases, and Rare Diseases - to discuss how their teams work to improve the sustainability of our healthcare system through population health initiatives that foster health equity, so we can deliver moments that matter for people impacted by severe diseases.

Note: The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Why is it important to address population health challenges in therapeutic areas from Immunological Diseases to Bone Health, Epilepsy, and Rare Diseases?

Jennifer Todd, Global Healthcare Strategy and Solutions Lead, Bone Health Mission (Bone Health): Breaking a bone is often the first sign of osteoporosis, and undiagnosed and undertreated osteoporosis leaves patients at a high risk of suffering another fracture. While the impact of these fractures to patients and their families is undeniable, what is surprising is how common and costly these fractures are to the overall healthcare system. In fact, among women 55 years and older, hospitalization costs due to osteoporotic fractures are higher than those associated with other recognized conditions, such as heart attacks, stroke, and breast cancer. 

A recent analysis by the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation demonstrates the substantial racial and ethnic disparities that exist specific to fracture incidence and care. Medicare beneficiaries who were American Indian suffered fractures at a rate 20% higher than the national average, and fewer black women had their underlying osteoporosis evaluated after suffering a fragility fracture. These data points underscore the need for coordinated, multidisciplinary models of care that prevent subsequent fractures and address healthcare disparities. 

Debbie Smith, Lead, Medical Strategy HEOR, U.S. Epilepsy and Rare Syndromes (Epilepsy and Rare Epilepsies): Although epilepsy is experienced by one in twenty-six individuals, the disease has been stigmatized for centuries and a lack of awareness remains a challenge. This truth compounds the impact of social determinants of health to result in worse health outcomes and inequitable access to care. We believe that documenting the magnitude of current health disparities in the epilepsy community is a critical first step to inform the work of creating and implementing solutions. 

Natasha Trujillo, Ecosystem Portfolio Strategy Lead, U.S. Immunology (Immunological Diseases) (Immunological Diseases): There are long-term repercussions for the healthcare system when patients with inflammatory disease go undiagnosed for years, and people of color and those living in rural areas face additional barriers to care. UCB strives to work with healthcare partners who share a strategic vision in closing these gaps in care through education, earlier diagnosis, and prioritization of innovative initiatives.

Nicole Williams, Portfolio Innovation Partner, U.S. Immunology (Immunological Diseases) (Immunological Diseases): Advancing health equity requires an integrated approach across stakeholders that promotes demolishing barriers, transforming health systems, and addressing poor drivers of health. By focusing on innovative solutions, we can empower patients, clinicians, payers, and pharma to address population health challenges across the entire care continuum.

Judith Thompson, Population Health Strategy Lead, Rare Diseases (Rare Diseases): Rare disease patients and their caregivers are underserved and underrepresented and face additional challenges when it comes to care that can be further exacerbated by bias and inequity. Moreover, the diagnostic journey for rare disease patients is uniquely challenging due to low disease prevalence, barriers to testing, and specialized expertise among healthcare providers. When compounded with health inequities resulting from unaddressed social determinants of health, the challenges facing rare disease patients are exacerbated. 

What are some of UCB’s recent initiatives to address health inequities and population health challenges? 

Jennifer Todd (Bone Health): UCB has a Bone Health team dedicated to helping health systems assess their current practices and adopt coordinated care models, i.e., post-fracture care programs, that aim to prevent additional fractures. 

Our team is leading efforts to prevent additional fractures for women with osteoporosis by designing health equity interventions, advancing real-world evidence, and bringing leaders in post-fracture care together to share best practices and insights. 

Debbie Smith (Epilepsy and Rare Epilepsies): Our Epilepsy team utilizes a range of methods to improve the lives of individuals with epilepsy and their loved ones. These approaches include health economics and outcomes research (HEOR), advocacy engagements, qualitative research, solution development, and epilepsy awareness engagements in the community. One critical piece is our commitment to share our learnings to foster advancements towards health equity in epilepsy care across the health spectrum. Work conducted is published in top journals including Epilepsia and Epilepsy & Behavior, included in health news broadcasts – we even contributed to the first textbook on social determinants of health in epilepsy. 

Natasha Trujillo (Immunological Diseases): In Immunological Diseases, UCB’s initiatives encompass education and resource creation to help promote systematic screening for earlier identification of diseases, such as psoriatic arthritis and non-radiographic axial spondylarthritis (nr-axSpA). This ensures the appropriate patients receive the right care at the right time. One way to reach often overlooked communities is to partner with health systems that use machine learning and telehealth technologies to meet patients where they are. These partnerships with the broader healthcare community is where additional value for patients can emerge. 

Nicole Williams (Immunological Diseases): Additionally, UCB’s Wellness 4U Speaker Bureau provides thought-provoking topics to unite the entire care team to discuss innovative ways to address care challenges for Immunological Diseases. UCB has also collaborated with influential national customers by partnering to deliver innovative concepts in patient care such as a shared decision-making digital application. 

Judith Thompson (Rare Diseases): As we prepare to enter the rare disease space, we aim to develop transformative solutions that can improve outcomes for people living with rare diseases and our approach to innovation informs not just our treatments, but also to our wider contributions to support and care. For instance, with generalized myasthenia gravis (gMG), UCB is listening to patients, caregivers, advocates, and neuromuscular specialists in the gMG community to understand more about them, but also from them. 

What is unique is we are focused on not only the patient component, but also the people and community component, and that includes families and caregivers. We seek to gain a deep understanding of the experiences of those impacted by these diseases and work with them to create value by providing better and differentiated solutions and services as they navigate their care. 

Why are collaborations important for addressing major population health challenges?

Jennifer Todd (Bone Health): Collaborations are a powerful way to elevate how our healthcare system is managing people living with chronic disease. A recent example is our work with Rebuilding Together, a non-profit organization that makes essential repairs to help people stay in their homes, and two large health systems to design an intervention that addresses social and economic issues women with osteoporosis face when they return home after a fracture. The collaboration ultimately aims to deliver a sustainable, new social business approach that stands up to healthcare disparities and improves access to care for underserved populations.

Debbie Smith (Epilepsy and Rare Epilepsies): In epilepsy, partnerships are critical to enabling us to effectively engage with advocates, to co-develop solutions, and to host effective epilepsy awareness engagements in the community as we seek to improve the lives of individuals with epilepsy and their loved ones. We recently hosted a symposium exploring health disparities for Black patients living with epilepsy where the importance of collaboration in work to reduce stigma and educate community members was a common theme. 

Natasha Trujillo (Immunological Diseases): Collaborating with the teams that deliver care today is critical for effective change. Anything we can do to co-create solutions with both the patients and clinicians we serve will enable us to be a part of lasting efforts in the future. Clinician burnout is real, and working together to find solutions within their current ways of working is critical to bringing realistic solutions for patients forward. 

Nicole Williams (Immunological Diseases): Collaboration is vital to successfully impacting population health. No one stakeholder can do it alone. Change happens at the speed of trust, so coming together with trusted partners from various players within a community to achieve and maintain population health requires an orchestrated approach.

Judith Thompson (Rare Diseases): No single entity can address population health challenges alone. Research tells us that only 20% of health outcomes can be attributed to the traditional medical care while about 80% is divided between aspects of social determinants of health not addressed within traditional healthcare services. A collaborative effort is needed to improve health outcomes as organizations must rely on collective expertise, funding, and proximity of other like-minded organizations to pool resources and effectuate change.