There is growing urgency to tackle issues of equity and justice in the USA and worldwide. Health equity, a framing that moves away from a deficit mindset of what society is doing poorly (disparities) to one that is positive about what society can achieve, is becoming more prominent in health research that uses implementation science approaches. Equity begins with justice—health differences often reflect societal injustices. Applying the perspectives and tools of implementation science has potential for immediate impact to improve health equity.
We propose a vision and set of action steps for making health equity a more prominent and central aim of implementation science, thus committing to conduct implementation science through equity-focused principles to achieve this vision in U.S. research and practice. We identify and discuss challenges in current health disparities approaches that do not fully consider social determinants. Implementation research challenges are outlined in three areas: limitations of the evidence base, underdeveloped measures and methods, and inadequate attention to context. To address these challenges, we offer recommendations that seek to (1) link social determinants with health outcomes, (2) build equity into all policies, (3) use equity-relevant metrics, (4) study what is already happening, (5) integrate equity into implementation models, (6) design and tailor implementation strategies, (7) connect to systems and sectors outside of health, (8) engage organizations in internal and external equity efforts, (9) build capacity for equity in implementation science, and (10) focus on equity in dissemination efforts.
Every project in implementation science should include an equity focus. For some studies, equity is the main goal of the project and a central feature of all aspects of the project. In other studies, equity is part of a project but not the singular focus. In these studies, we should, at a minimum, ensure that we “leave no one behind” and that existing disparities are not widened. With a stronger commitment to health equity from funders, researchers, practitioners, advocates, evaluators, and policy makers, we can harvest the rewards of the resources being invested in health-related research to eliminate disparities, resulting in health equity.