Health Equity and the Tripartite Mission: Moving from Academic Health Centers to Academic-Community Health Systems

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Academic Medicine

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Academic health centers (AHCs) play a significant role in educating the health care workforce, conducting innovative biomedical and clinical research, and delivering high-quality patient care. Much work remains, however, to adequately address the social determinants of health and equity that affect communities where patients live, work, and play. Doing so will help achieve the Quadruple Aim while also addressing the unjust social structures that disproportionately impact communities of color and vulnerable populations. AHCs have a timely opportunity to focus their leading roles in education, research, and clinical care on social determinants, moving outside their walls to create academic–community health systems: a collection of academic–community partnerships that advance health equity through collaboration, power-sharing, and co-creation. This Perspective proposes four strategies to start developing academic–community health systems. First, embark on all efforts through co-creation with communities. Second, address how future health care professionals are recruited. Third, build the right skills and opportunities for health care professionals to address health inequities. Finally, develop research agendas to evaluate programs addressing inequities. A fully-realized vision of an academic–community health system will demonstrate interdependence between AHCs and the community. While considerable AHC resources are invested in building community capacity to improve health and health equity, health systems will also benefit in a multitude of ways, including increasing the diversity of ideas and experiences integrated into health systems. These strategies will support AHCs to embed across each arm of the tripartite mission a focus on partnering with communities to advance health equity together.


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