How Can We Improve Healthcare in Underserved Communities?
Today’s healthcare landscape is vast and complex. Within it exists nearly infinite sub-environments and social contexts, all of which present unique strengths, weaknesses, and difficulties. However, one sweeping reality that affects countless people within the system is a common tendency towards inequitable care provision for certain communities and demographics over others.
The disproportionalities in healthcare provision experienced by specific subpopulations and underserved communities is a story that repeats itself over and over across the country (and around the world). This is a matter of deep concern for equity advocates in healthcare, and there are a number of voices within the healthcare landscape working towards changing this reality.
Current Disparities in Healthcare Access
One helpful lens for understanding healthcare disparities at scale is a set of statistics that reveal the average difference in care delivery and outcomes by demographic. These include social differentiators like income level, race, legal status, gender identity, disability, and religion.
Across a range of metrics, certain communities, like those that earn middle-class incomes or are white/Caucasian, receive (on average) better levels of care and enjoy easier access to healthcare providers than individuals within the same communities and geographic locations that fall into other demographic categories.
There are a number of ways these disparities play out in various settings or instances. A few trends in particular represent a large percentage of healthcare inequity cases across the country. These include the following:
Difficulties in Securing Health Insurance for Noncitizens
Because the American healthcare system is so tightly tied to the insurance industry, it is vastly difficult to obtain any kind of healthcare without some form of health insurance. Unfortunately, insurance is very difficult to secure for a number of demographics, including those with complicated legal statuses or those that don’t work or have permanent addresses.
Racist Policies, Sentiments, and Biases Within the Healthcare System
This is a hugely complex topic and involves deeply systemic and cultural influences. The result, however, is a serially prejudiced system that, on average, is more likely to provide subpar care and treatment to people of color than it is to white people.
Healthcare Professionals, Especially in Places of Leadership, Remain Disproportionately white, Cisgendered, and Male
Though this has long been an area of focus and attempted awareness within the professional healthcare community, it still remains disproportionately monotone. Numbers of ethnic minorities (and other minority groups) working in healthcare fields remain stubbornly low.
This perpetuates difficulties that many patients experience when receiving care from someone who does not look like them and does not fully understand their culture, experience, community, or context.
Current Initiatives that are Working to Equalize Access to Good Healthcare
Above are just some of the ways that the healthcare system is still operating to disproportionately help certain members of society more than others. But though the system is still fraught with these widespread inequalities and problems, strides are being taken towards balancing the healthcare system at large and changing some of these realities so that more people have adequate access to the healthcare they need.
Changing Legislation to Correct Implicitly Biased or Prejudiced Policies
Systemic manifestations of discrimination and racism are often baked into legislative policy. The process of assessing current legislation and reshaping it to be more equal and equitable is a long, painstaking process. However, it can be a source of deep and significant institutional change.
Design Initiatives to Encourage More Members of Minority Groups to Study Medicine
These might look like demographic-specific scholarships, programs, or job fairs; or curriculums implemented in high-minority primary and secondary education spaces. Encouraging minority groups to consider healthcare a viable career option can have ripple effects on not only current but future generations and create precedent for more individuals to choose to enter the healthcare workforce as well.
Prioritizing Public Health Campaigns that Equip and Empower Minority Demographics to Partake in Healthy Living
Statistics reveal strong disparities in health IQ and healthy living habits between, for example, white/caucasian populations and ethnic minority populations. The work of providing diverse cultural contexts and backgrounds with health information made pertinent and relevant to them is slowly gaining traction and needs to be increased.
Ways to Contribute Personally Towards Stronger Equity in Healthcare
If you are a healthcare professional and want to make a difference in bringing about better, more equitable healthcare provision for all communities, here are a few ways you can get involved in this process.
Educate Yourself on the Nuances of Providing Healthcare to Those of Different Cultures, Identities, and Ethnicities
Whether you yourself belong to a minority identity or not, everyone has room to learn and grow when it comes to becoming more culturally knowledgeable and equipped. Terms like “transcultural nursing” and “cultural sensitivity” help shape this concept into actionable knowledge areas.
Seeking out conferences, talks, reading materials, and training on these topics can help you better understand, identify with, empathize with, and respect people with different cultural or ethnic backgrounds than your own.
Advocate for Equitable Policies, Awareness, and Conduct Within Your Own Healthcare Facility
Whether you work for an independent local hospital, a large nationwide healthcare provider, or a small outpatient clinic, your healthcare environment may or may not have an adequate understanding of equitable practices and policies.
Speaking up for underserved communities and supporting implementation of better equity practices can help change the nature of your healthcare facility as well as educate your colleagues and fellow professionals about the importance of healthcare equity.
Find Opportunities to Volunteer Your Healthcare Expertise to Support Underserved Communities in Your Area
Especially in locations where disparities are large and certain demographics or populations have poor access to healthcare, find opportunities to volunteer with nonprofit organizations or other initiatives to meet the healthcare needs of communities that have the most difficulty accessing treatment. This can be a significant and often life-altering way of lessening healthcare inequality.
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.