Common Factors | Fall 2022

A Unique Podcast Sparks Change

How the conversations in the “Off the Charts” podcast
about diversity, equity and inclusion
can improve clinical practice.

George Floyd’s murder made Kari Haley, MD, wonder how first responders were coping with the event and its aftermath in her Minneapolis-area community. At the time, Dr. Haley was assistant medical director of Regions Hospital Emergency Medical Services for HealthPartners, the country’s largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health care organization.

To find out, she organized a roundtable discussion of a dozen firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, nurses and doctors. That group, made up of both Dr. Haley’s colleagues and community emergency workers, shared stories about racism they’d encountered personally and professionally. Communally, they processed their experiences, fears and hopes for the future.
That powerful conversation, which was recorded, caught the attention of Jimmy Bellamy, senior communications consultant for HealthPartners. Soon after, Bellamy emailed Dr. Haley for permission to share the roundtable across HealthPartners’s social media channels. As she agreed to that plan by email, Dr. Haley copied Steve Jackson, MD, who specializes in patients with spinal cord injuries and co-chairs HealthPartners’ Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Cabinet.
Dr. Haley knew Dr. Jackson was continually looking for ways to further diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals, including fostering an environment of welcoming, including and valuing everyone who walked through any door in the organization. Dr. Haley started thinking about how to keep the momentum she felt from the roundtable going and growing, and she figured Dr. Jackson could help.
“We should do a podcast,” she wrote in that email. Without hesitation, Dr. Jackson said yes. After some brainstorming, “Off the Charts: Examining the Health Equity Emergency” was born.
“It’s been a complete grassroots effort,”
Bellamy says. “It was: ‘We’re doing this.’ And everyone from leadership on down has been supportive.”
Bellamy thinks it’s a first. “I’ve searched Apple and other podcast platforms,” he says, “and I could not find another ongoing podcast hosted by a health care system dedicated to DEI.”

The Clinical Connection
Over the past two years, Drs. Haley and Jackson have recorded more than 16 episodes of “Off The Charts,” speaking with guests about persistent DEI disparities in health care and what can be done to bring about equity. They’ve tackled childhood immunizations, microaggressions, cultural humility and what it means to be a bystander rather than an “upstander” when confronting racism.
They hope their conversations will lead to improved patient care in clinical settings by helping to deepen empathy, understanding and, especially, trust.One example of how this works: Black women experience poor maternal health outcomes at a significantly higher rate than white women. The “Off the Charts” podcast on that topic featured Dr. Corinne Brown-Robinson, the vice chair of the OB-GYN department and medical director of the ultrasound department at HealthPartners. When delivering her own twins, Dr. Brown-Robinson experienced racism as a maternity patient in the hospital that employed her at the time. It happened during postpartum care, when a worker questioned whether Dr. Brown-Robinson was truly a doctor. Such offensive or unthinking remarks can break the trust that a patient has for her providers and the system. “All who play a role in patient care, regardless of role, are all affecting patient care,” Dr. Jackson says.

Trust is a recurring theme
“Trust is built within the culture of the clinic itself,” Dr. Haley says. Dr. Jackson elaborates, “It’s how people are greeted, checked in, directed to where they should go in the clinic. It’s how they’re perceived when they come into the building and when they see their providers. There’s a continuum of trust that every piece and player needs to be on board for.” Drs. Haley and Jackson see the podcast itself as a vehicle for building the trust needed to provide a positive environment both for workers and for optimal patient care. By hearing others’ stories, a listener’s perspective can shift. That in turn can lead to challenging assumptions, thinking differently and behaving mindfully. Perhaps a health care worker then chooses not to make a comment that could break trust, or maybe a patient decides to be more open-minded about a doctor who is different from them. “We’re creating a space where difference is talked about openly,” Dr. Jackson says. “These conversations hit real issues hard, but without big fancy words. We dispel myths and rumors about doctors and the health care system. We also give a voice to community members who might not have one in the health care space.” In fact, a forward-looking goal of the podcast is to engage more community members as guests; because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Off the Charts” has so far used primarily HealthPartners professionals. Dr. Haley speaks of the bravery it takes for guests to share personal stories about health and racism. She thinks the courage shown by those who come on the show will “spark the courage to start conversations within people’s own groups. It’s being open to conversations about how others experience the world, especially as it has to do with health and providing care.” She and Dr. Jackson also make a point of selecting guests who are both knowledgeable and vulnerable, who are open to sharing their wisdom along with their experiences. And, of course, they look for great storytellers.

Patient-centered and beyond
Bellamy describes the podcast’s audience as “the DEIcurious”—people who know inequity exists and want to learn, but who perhaps fear difficult conversations around race.
Dr. Jackson sees the audience more broadly: “We want to talk to those who perpetuate disparities, and those who have suffered the negative effects; the single mom who feels like she has no voice, the dad who goes into the office and is ignored. We want to reach anyone who listens to podcasts.”
That’s because he believes anyone can benefit from hearing these conversations, including himself.
“I drank the proverbial Kool-Aid,” Dr. Jackson says of his belief in HealthPartners’ values of excellence, compassion, partnership and integrity. He truly believes in and tries to live by those values, and by the organization’s vison of “Health as it could be, affordability as it must be, through relationships built on trust.”
He and Dr. Haley see the “Off the Charts” podcast as amplifying those values and showing how they can be made real across a range of care situations.
One early episode explained the practice of cultural humility. Guest Miguel Ruiz, MD, a hospice and palliative care physician, spoke about how care providers can seek to understand rather than simply being understood. In that episode, not only did Dr. Ruiz tell stories about patients who showed how they could feel vulnerable or misunderstood, but he also outlined steps providers could take in their approach that will better serve their patients.
For Dr. Jackson, the Dr. Ruiz episode showcases how every episode of “Off the Charts” loops back to improved outcomes in a system that’s being sensitized to issues of inclusion.
“This is a patient-driven, patient-centered project,” he says of the podcast. “If you think about it, why else would we do it? I can’t think of a better reason other than to eventually lead to improved patient care.”

To find episodes of “Off the Charts,” visit