Health equity has been a topic of much conversation in recent years, mostly due to the fact that there is a lack of equitable healthcare in the United States at this time. But what exactly is meant by health equity, why is it so important, and what are the barriers preventing it? Finally, how can we work to overcome some of those barriers? Let’s explore some answers.
What is health equity and why does it matter?
Health equity means each individual is able to be as healthy as possible and no one is held back from achieving their full health potential by their social or economic circumstances. Some of the circumstances that cause health inequity include discrimination and poverty and the lack of access to safe housing, good jobs, healthy food, and quality healthcare that follow. This health inequity is evident in differences in life expectancy, quality of life, occurrence of disease, disability, and death, disease severity, and access to treatment.
Unfortunately, health disparities do exist in the United States, and they are unacceptable, but also correctable. Health is central to a person’s life, impacting their overall well-being and happiness, so it’s only fair that everyone should have the same opportunity to be healthy. It’s imperative to address and correct the issues that cause health disparities in order to ensure all individuals have an equitable opportunity to be healthy.
Barriers to Health Equity
While many of the circumstances that lead to health inequity are too large to be corrected by the healthcare industry, there are many barriers to health equity that practices and organizations can help to overcome. The first of these barriers is the issue of the health professional shortage. Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) are areas without an adequate number of healthcare providers. There are three types of HPSAs – primary care, dental health, and mental health – and they’re often found in rural and low-income areas. HPSAs are determined by the National Health Service Corps, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, as a means to bring providers to underserved areas by providing scholarships and loan repayment to providers serving in HPSAs.
Transportation access is another barrier to health equity. According to the American Hospital Association, 3.6 million Americans are unable to access care each year due to lack of transportation. Additionally, it’s estimated that one million children in America miss a medical appointment for the same reason. Specific barriers related to transportation include lack of a vehicle, long-distance travel, poor infrastructure, and a lack of adequate public transportation. Bike lanes, better bus access, and ridesharing can help this barrier in urban and suburban areas, but may not be useful in more rural communities.
Another barrier to health equity in the United States is inadequate insurance coverage. According to the CDC, as of 2018, 9.4% of all Americans were uninsured. That figure increased to 26.7% among Hispanic Americans and 15.2% among African Americans. Insurance disparity is most often related to employment and socioeconomic status, as 24.7% of low-income individuals are without health insurance according to the CDC. This lack of adequate insurance coverage places the burden of healthcare costs squarely on individuals who can least afford it. This often results in avoidance of preventative care, and even at times care in an acute situation. In fact, it’s estimated by the CDC that 8.3% of adults age 18 and above did not get medical care due to cost in 2019.
Finally, there is the language barrier. Not all patients speak English as their first language, and unfortunately not all facilities have translation services available. This inability for patients and providers to communicate adequately can impact a patient’s ability to get needed care. While it is unreasonable to expect all practices to have individuals on staff that speak every possible language, there are translation services available to help ease this burden.
How to Overcome Those Barriers
So, what can be done to overcome these barriers? When dealing with the barrier or underserved areas or transportation concerns, telehealth can be a great option, particularly if you choose a robust solution that goes beyond traditional video visits. This allows patients, even in the most rural areas, to have access to the care they need without excessive travel.
Another option to overcome the barrier of the Healthcare Professional Shortage is to utilize mobile clinics. This is a great option to bring the resources that may not exist in a community directly to where they’re needed .
When considering the barrier of inadequate insurance and high healthcare costs, obviously the easiest solution is more affordable care. Additionally, though, providing better cost transparency so that patients can plan ahead and not be surprised by unexpected bills and offering payment plan options can be a great help in easing this burden.
Finally, a practice can overcome the language barrier by implementing a technology vendor that offers translation services. This will allow providers to have access to translation for a variety of languages to ensure clear communication with all patients when it’s needed.
Health equity is important to all of society, not just those who experience health disparities. When individuals reach their health potential it’s another step towards a healthier society overall, and this ultimately helps to lower healthcare costs. In turn, that lowering of care costs can help to ease some health disparities. But we must do what we can to achieve more health equity first.
Are you ready to implement solutions in your practice to extend your care reach and ease health disparities? Visit our Solutions Central page or call 1-800-624-8832 to determine what solutions are a good fit for your practice.
About the author,
Crystal is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Henry Schein MicroMD. Content creation, social media management, and SEO optimization are just a few of her areas of concentration as she seeks to educate clients and prospects alike about the simple, customizable, and connected solutions we offer at MicroMD.
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