"It's the right thing to do."

You hear those words a lot from health care leaders as they pour money into processes and services that don't always have a clear-cut return on investment. Many hospitals are spending significant dollars on population health, new technologies, risk assumption and a multitude of other things that promise to improve the nation's health care system, but carry no guarantee they'll ever benefit the individual organization's bottom line.

You might think that's the case when it comes to eliminating disparities in care. But as H&HN's special report "Equity of Care: Making It Happen," makes clear, ensuring that every American gets equal access to quality health care is more than the right thing to do — it also makes business sense.

Over the next few decades the percentage of the U.S. population that belongs to one or another racial or ethnic minority will continue to grow, reaching 54 percent by 2050. Providers must understand the makeup of their communities to fashion culturally appropriate outreach that pinpoints social barriers to care, identifies local disease trends and promotes healthful behaviors.

H&HN's report, compiled by Lee Ann Jarousse and Chuck Lazar, is based primarily on research and recommendations from the Institute for Diversity in Health Management and the Health Research & Educational Trust. It maps a three-pronged approach to achieving care equity: the collection of race, ethnicity and language preference data; increased cultural competency training for leaders and staff; and increased diversity among managers, executives and board members.

It also describes three key steps toward cultural competency: a community survey that analyzes demographic information and health status; community engagement in which survey findings are shared with local residents who help to determine priorities and strategies; and staff education to understand patients' cultural needs.

Many hospitals and health systems already are making terrific progress in addressing disparities in care and promoting diversity in their leadership and workforce. Our report includes a list of 42 hospitals and health systems recognized by the Institute for Diversity in Health Management as "best in class" for their work in those areas.