Healthcare providers and care teams who know their patients well have long known that health equity challenges exist. The healthcare industry is catching up, and new programs, opportunities, and financing models are all focusing on health equity.
Health equity, or allowing every person to reach their “full health potential,” is a high-priority goal for healthcare policy-makers, payers, and organizations. Improving health equity improves population health outcomes and also reduces fragmentation across the healthcare sector.
Addressing health equity encourages providers and care teams to align their efforts with other sectors that impact healthcare and health outcomes such as housing, food security, economic stability, neighborhood, and education.
Offering healthcare aimed at promoting health equity enables access to high-quality care no matter a patient’s background, current situation, or challenges. It leads to more efficient healthcare systems — a population that has equitable access to necessary care requires fewer medical interventions.
What is health equity?
Health equity is a widely used term in healthcare with many different interpretations. To truly work toward health equity, we must understand and agree on a common definition. Health equity is defined by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation here:
“Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and healthcare.”
Ensuring that all people have equal access to healthcare is the core principle of health equity, but to achieve this is no small feat. Health equity requires a healthcare system that provides equal access to care regardless of a patient’s race, sexuality, zip code, health status, social needs, or financial situation. According to the CDC, it also requires “focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and the elimination of health and healthcare disparities.”
How improving health equity benefits the overall community
Addressing barriers to health and promoting health equity needs to be a central focus if we want to improve health outcomes for everyone. Incorporating health equity into business and healthcare strategies prioritizes comprehensive and inclusive wellness, prevention, and culturally competent care. It also requires the expansion of access and the removal of barriers to essential healthcare services and support. Promoting health equity benefits the overall community and can result in better outcomes, including the examples outlined below.
Morbidity is a medical term to describe the presence of a medical condition or disease. Some common morbidities include heart disease and diabetes. In the U.S, the prevalence of chronic disease is increasing and is projected to continue its upward trend. This creates a major pressure on the healthcare delivery system.
Some morbidities are more common in certain populations than others. For example, Black patients are typically more at-risk for morbidities such as heart disease, asthma, stroke, HIV/AIDS, cancer, pneumonia, and influenza, according to the national Office for Minority Health.
Adopting healthcare strategies to achieve health equity will enable patients to access the right care for their needs. When patients are able to access care without any barriers, health equity approaches will be able to lower morbidity rates.
Increases life expectancy
Working toward health equity will also help to increase life expectancy. The average life expectancy varies widely in the U.S. In fact, there can be a 20-year difference between various locations across the country. Socioeconomic status plays a role — U.S. residents in areas with the highest life expectancy are wealthier than their counterparts and have access to more resources. U.S. residents with a lower life expectancy live in poorer conditions and have less access to healthcare services.
Providing patient-centered care that aligns with the needs of these populations can have lasting effects. Supporting access to better living conditions, addressing social determinants of health, and enabling access to key healthcare resources throughout an individual’s life extends longevity. Shorter life expectancy and high death rates indicate that specific populations not only face threats to their health but are also unable to access necessary resources.
Childhood obesity, which positively correlates with reduced life expectancy, disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic children. Providing comprehensive, culturally competent care to support children living with obesity and their families can change this trajectory.
Substance use disorders, and the opioid epidemic specifically, are widely prevalent across the U.S., but access to interventions and appropriate healthcare can vary widely. A patient’s health insurance coverage, socioeconomic status, and social needs can impact the care they are able to access. Healthcare efforts aimed at treating substance use disorders must incorporate health equity principles into their approach to have a meaningful impact across all communities.
Improves infant and child survival rate
Health equity efforts are essential to improving infant and child survival rates in the US. The infant mortality rate measures the number of infants in a population who die before their first birthday per 1,000 live births.
According to the Office for Minority Health, non-hispanic African-American infants have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites, are four times more likely to die from low birth weight complications, and have twice the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) mortality rate.
Growing racial diversity and economic inequities in the U.S. are causing these numbers to increase. Disparities in care and lack of access to necessary services can severely impact lifetime health outcomes. There is hope, however. The healthcare system has an opportunity to improve access to high-quality care and promote health equity strategies to reverse this trend. Beginning these efforts in infancy and childhood not only improve infant and child survival rates but also lead to improved lifetime outcomes.
Provides better quality of life
As noted previously, health disparities and inequities can seriously impact a person’s life. Often, those individuals who need healthcare the most are unable to access the services they need. Services for mental health, maternity and infant care, and chronic disease are only a few examples of areas where health inequities have been identified.
To solve healthcare challenges across the US, a comprehensive look at where services are and are not available is key. Health outcomes for minority groups lag significantly behind others. Without acknowledging these shortcomings in the healthcare system, there is no opportunity to improve them. Adopting goals and strategies to achieve health equity is essential to improve health outcomes for all patients. The quality of life for all Americans can improve if health equity is centered as a common goal.
Equal and better care for all
Improving health equity is necessary to improve outcomes for patients in the US. Health equity strategies aim to ensure all patients have access to the services, providers, and care they need. Many patients and populations face barriers to accessing care such as lack of housing, food insecurity, and inadequate transportation.
As a first step, healthcare organizations and providers should focus on how they can remove barriers to care, support value-based models that incentivize high-quality care for all patients, and identify current gaps in service for specific patients or populations. Healthcare should be accessible for all patients, regardless of where they live and the challenges they face. By prioritizing health equity in the US, the healthcare system has an opportunity to improve care for all patients, enabling individuals and communities to use the resources they need.
How can providers and care teams who are focused on health equity streamline their efforts? Care Management platforms like Welkin Health allow teams to improve patient outcomes and deliver patient-centered care. Learn more about how your team can make the most of this fresh approach with our Care Management guide.