Health equity is the idea that all people have the opportunity to attain their full health potential. It is also a concept that no one is disadvantaged from reaching this potential because of their race/ethnicity, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status, or geographical background.
There are many ways to advance health equity and ensure everyone has access to quality health care. However, many health inequities stem from past social conditions imposed on individuals or groups.
Social Determinants of Health
The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as conditions or circumstances in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age. A comprehensive set of forces and systems, including economic policies and plans, development agendas, social norms, social policies, and political systems, shapes these conditions’ tical procedures.
Achieving health equity requires addressing all of the above. This includes improving access to health care and prevention services and addressing social factors that influence the quality of life for individuals and communities.
Physicians need to understand and be aware of the impact of socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity on their patient’s health outcomes. Therefore, they should ask questions about these factors in a definitive social history and dig deeper into their patients’ lives to discover any underlying social and economic factors that may influence their health and well-being.
Educating physicians, policymakers, and communities on the impact of social factors on health is an essential step in reducing disparities and promoting health equity. This includes support for public policies aimed at immediate needs and systemic issues, improved interpersonal communication, a better understanding of the issue by physicians, and robust research to build the evidence base needed to address these underlying factors.
Access to Health Care
Access to health care is critical in improving health outcomes and controlling long-term health costs. Nonetheless, racial and ethnic differences persist in how people experience healthcare.
There are many ways to achieve equity, including through political and community efforts. Often, gaining equity requires removing or reducing social and economic factors that affect an individual’s health.
Disparities in access to health services are rooted in structural barriers, such as a lack of affordable transportation options or living far from treatment facilities. However, they also stem from socioeconomic statuses, such as low-income or high-poverty levels.
CDC defines health disparities as “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, or other conditions among populations.” Socially disadvantaged people typically experience these gaps.
Ideally, everyone should have equal opportunities and utilize health services, regardless of race, gender, or social position. However, this can be a challenging concept to operationalize.
Preventive Health Care
A critical component of health is preventive healthcare, including vaccines, screenings, and diagnostic tests administered during checkups to identify and prevent diseases and illnesses. Some examples of these services include the flu shot, a vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and polio, and screenings for cancer, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure to help identify and prevent heart disease and other severe conditions.
Preventive health care has many benefits, including reducing costs for treatment and increasing longevity. It can also help reduce the burden on the healthcare system by allowing patients to self-care when needed and learning how to manage chronic conditions with less frequent physician intervention.
Despite widespread recognition of the importance of preventive services in improving patient health, clinical prevention service use disparities are often attributed to social determinants of health and the lack of insurance coverage. Although these issues are essential to address, they do not account for all the barriers to preventing disease and achieving health equity in clinical prevention services.
Chronic Disease Management
Chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease are long-term health conditions that require regular treatment. They can’t be cured but can be managed and improved through a total-health approach that considers the patient’s environment, lifestyle, and genetics.
Chronic disease management requires a multifaceted approach that includes health education, patient advocacy, and ongoing monitoring. These interventions reduce the progression of chronic illness, delay its onset and improve patients’ quality of life.
People with disabilities and older adults are particularly impacted by the impact of chronic illnesses on their daily lives. These conditions impose hardships on their physical and social activities, often limiting their ability to work and participate in community activities.
Through various self-management programs, such as the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP), NCOA promotes various proven strategies for coping with chronic diseases. Participants who complete the program report better quality of life, more energy, and increased activity participation. They also experience reductions in healthcare costs and emergency room visits.
The health of a community is a direct reflection of the social, economic, and environmental factors that impact its residents. When these factors are not addressed, communities are at risk for poor health and a decreased quality of life.
Disparities in health and health care are widespread, causing high rates of illness and death for people of color and other underserved populations. In addition, they are costly to society, resulting in lost productivity and income and higher medical costs.
Community-based solutions often rely on multiple, multi-sectoral collaborations and approaches. As a result, they can be more effective than programs primarily focused on health, especially when considering structural inequities in the community.