Health Disparities Still a Huge Problem

When was the last time you thought about whether someone else was getting good healthcare? Despite the progress we have made as a country in developing high-tech equipment, state-of-the-art hospitals, and breakthrough research, there are still huge segments of the population that don’t have readily available, high-quality care, and as a result, suffer many avoidable health problems.

The recent CDC Report on Health Disparities in America took an in-depth look at how health inequities impact our citizens and potential solutions to address this national problem. To backtrack, health disparities refers to the ongoing imbalance between the health status of minorities and non-minorities in the United States. This report is the first of what will become a regular series of reports on healthcare in the U.S. It looked at health differences among groups in a number of categories, including income, race and ethnicity, education, gender, disability status and other socio-economic factors.

The goal of the report was to spotlight several key issues: first, that disparities are still widespread in this country. It’s something we often don’t think about, as long as we are personally receiving good healthcare. Second, many of these imbalances could be easily fixed through some simple widespread, cost-effective interventions. Unfortunately, it is still not the case. Some key findings:

  • Racial and ethnic minorities, and low-income residents still face an uphill battle for quality, accessible, ongoing health care.
  • Lower income residents report fewer average healthy days.
  • Higher levels of air pollution in some inner-city neighborhoods impact the health of the people who live and work there. Since racial and ethnic minorities, are more likely to live in urban areas, they continue to experience a disparately larger impact.
  • Black men and women have a greater chance of dying from heart disease and stroke than their white counterparts.
  • Infants born to black women are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to die than infants born to women of other races/ethnicities.
  • Rates of preventable hospitalizations increase as incomes decrease
  • Tobacco use, leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States, disproportionately impact certain racial and ethnic minority groups;There’s a significant drop in smoking rates as income and education increases.

The CDC recommends addressing health disparities with a two-pronged intervention strategy that includes health and social programs, as well as access to economic, educational, employment, and housing opportunities. The Department of Health and Human ServicesNational Partnership for Action noted that “Despite continued advances in health care and technology, racial and ethnic minorities continue to have higher rates of disease, disability and premature death than non- minorities.”

Many behavioral inequities can be addressed through community based outreach and education. Creating more green space, walking trails, playgrounds, and safer neighborhoods, along with ensuring availability of high quality, fresh and nutritious food, will go a long way in mitigating health issues like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.

Incentives to health providers can encourage them to provide more care in underserved areas. Incentives may also impact improvements in quality of care, effectiveness, safety, and a greater patient-oriented focus. Medical professionals must also become better educated about issues like stereotyping, discrimination, cultural competence, and the multitude of socio-economic factors in play.

Professional groups such as the American Medical Association say they will proactively work to increase awareness among physicians and health professionals; use evidence-based and other strategies; and advocate for action, including governmental, to eliminate disparities in health care and strengthen the health care system. That’s a great goal, but to be truly effective, that commitment must translate from an organizational statement to hands-on caregiving.

The CDC report stated that interventions should be addressed through both health and social programs, and more broadly, access to economic, educational, employment, and housing opportunities. The next time you complain about your co-pay, or the waiting time in your doctor’s cushy waiting room, think about this: how many of your fellow citizens don’t even have the chance to sit in hard plastic clinic chairs, don’t see a doctor regularly because there is no accessible physician nearby, or they don’t have insurance, or the free health center is only open while they’re at work. How many of them can’t go to the gym after work, because there isn’t one in their neighborhood. Or can’t find quality produce – let alone afford it when they do find it?

Something to consider.

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