In an innovative and wealthy country, you should be able to walk into a hospital and get the best care possible, no matter who you are.
Unfortunately, the American healthcare system is notorious for discriminating against people for a variety of reasons, both intentionally and unintentionally.
Health disparities have been a problem in the United States for a very long time.
Some people don’t have access to quality health facilities, due to a lack of insurance and/or transportation. Others lack health literacy skills or don’t have the ability to advocate for themselves.
In some cases, healthcare professionals even dismiss their patients’ concerns.
These are all health disparities that can lead to lower overall health and quality of life, chronic illness, or even premature death.
Most people believe in equality and fairness. So why is America’s healthcare system failing the most vulnerable members of society so badly?
Let’s take a look at the state of health disparities today, along with ways to promote equality within the system:
The Current State of Health Disparities in America
Health disparities occur based on many different factors.
Race, ethnicity, income, sexual orientation, gender, location, disability, educational background, and immigrant status can all affect the level of care a person receives. People belonging to one or more underserved groups are likely to be affected by health disparities.
It’s impossible to argue that we don’t have health disparities in the United States—the numbers don’t lie.
Black Americans are 7 times more likely to be HIV+ and more likely to develop alcohol-related liver disease than Caucasian Americans.
Obesity rates are higher among Hispanic and Black populations than among Caucasians, and Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than White women.
These are just a few of the consequences brought on by health disparities. There are so many examples of people struggling to get the physical and mental healthcare they need.
This is a basic need that should be provided for all with compassion and respect.
Connect with Patients By Respecting Their Culture
Some health disparities are unintentional, but that doesn’t mean they’re not causing harm.
In many cases, language barriers and cultural misunderstandings lead to poor health outcomes and distrust between healthcare professionals and their patients.
One way to help reduce this disparity is to make it easier for patients to access translation services. But it can also help to ensure that all healthcare professionals undergo cultural sensitivity training.
In a country as diverse as the United States, doctors and nurses need to be able to communicate with and respect patients of all backgrounds.
It’s not possible for healthcare professionals to fully understand all cultural customs. But learning about patients’ cultures allows doctors and nurses to better connect and build trust with patients and their families.
That’s key for improving patient outcomes and ensuring access for all.
Look to Address and Solve Social Determinants
Many health disparities don’t start in the hospital. They start in underserved communities, where schools don’t get the resources they need, grocery stores are scarce, and poverty makes life a struggle.
In order to really ensure healthcare equality, it’s important to look at these social determinants and solve them.
It’s a huge challenge to make communities healthier because it requires a multifaceted approach.
However, by improving access to education, healthy food, employment, and community resources, vulnerable populations’ overall health will improve, as will their quality of life.
Therefore, advocating for more funding and better urban planning is an effective way to reduce health disparities.
Vote for Politicians and Policies that Prioritize Health Disparities
When it comes to health disparities, individual power is somewhat limited. There’s only so much the average person can do to help.
One of the most powerful actions you can take, however, is to support politicians and policies advocating for health equality.
There are lots of ways to show your support. You can endorse and spread the word about candidates and policies you believe in. You can volunteer. You can donate if you have more money than time available.
Supporting politicians you believe in has to start at the local level—that’s where change starts.
It can be disheartening to think about all of the health disparities affecting millions of Americans. But when it comes to change, awareness is the first step.
By sharing your knowledge about inequalities in healthcare, you can be part of the solution.