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Mission Possible: Health Equity

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Courtney Haun
August 16, 2019

The chasm between mission impossible and mission possible is the fact that everyone has the opportunity to live healthier lives. However, this may actually seem impossible due to factors including where we live or how much our household income may be. Personal responsibility is the key to making the mission of health equity possible. The following paragraphs cover what health equity is, why it matters and how the mission to health equity can be completed.  

What is Health Equity?

To understand the goal of health equity, one must also understand what causes health differences among groups of people. Social, economic and environmental conditions can create health inequities. As one of the six dimensions of quality put forth by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), it is undoubtedly the case that equity has received the least amount of attention. Equitable care, according to the IOM, is providing, “Care that does not vary in quality because of personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, geographic location and socioeconomic status.” This forgotten aim is vitally important because, although personal responsibility is key, health equity is also important to ensure access to healthcare services. Equity in health is the absence of avoidable and unfair differences among groups. This implies that everyone should have fair opportunity to attain their full health potential. If a group is disadvantaged from achieving this potential, then health equity does not exist.

Why Health Equity Matters

Think about it. A healthcare worker may promote a healthy lifestyle to a patient through exercise and eating nutritious meals. However, what if that patient has no green space to exercise freely or a local fresh food store to obtain nutrient-dense food? Healthcare also has a responsibility in cases such as this. Health equity helps ensure that every patient that seeks healthcare services has the best care as well as the care that is most appropriate to them. Equity is about making sure everyone has that access to quality care. With this access, health equity can be obtained. Health equity can ultimately result in better population health outcomes.

Completing the Mission

There are many ways in which the mission for health equity can be completed. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, many ongoing programs as well as future strategies are being implemented to reach for health equity. Some of these include:

  • Home visits by health workers to help decrease asthma-related hospitalizations.
  • Expanded vaccination recommendations to eliminate disparities in Hepatitis A disease.
  • Curriculum for living well with a disability to improve quality of life.
  • Personalized counseling to reduce HIV risk behaviors.
  • Reclaiming of traditional food systems to facilitate dialogue about health.
  • Reminders about health assessments to increase colorectal cancer screening rates.
  • Programs and policies to support better neighborhood conditions such as reducing violence.
  • Health advisors reducing HIV risk behaviors.

Some groups that may have less opportunity to be as healthy as possible include black and Hispanic children, low income populations, high risk communities and people living with disabilities. Completing the mission of health equity keeps these target populations in mind.

In an article by Chin, achieving equity can occur by reducing disparities. To do so, one should first look for where these disparities are located. If healthcare consumers, providers and payers readily report data including individuals’ race, ethnic group and socioeconomic status, disparities could be found. Tracking this data and outcomes in general can help measure quality of life. These measures may help to find better outcomes, where disparities are occurring and how to provide outstanding patient-centered care.

The Health Equity Institute even provides a blueprint for improving health equity. This blueprint shows how social, economic and environmental conditions can impact a person’s health behaviors. In turn, these behaviors can accumulate into disease or injury. However, if access to quality care intercedes between the health behavior and the disease or injury, a potential positive health outcome can be obtained. Access alone does not allow for health equity. Instead, the opportunity to reach the full potential of health may reside in social, economic and environmental conditions. To reach health equity, collectively taking responsibility to eliminate inequities and disparities is key.

Part of this responsibility includes leadership. Whether you are a clinician, administrator, professor or policymaker, it is our professional responsibility to achieve equity. This includes improving the way care is delivered. Leadership matters, and we can do better. The mission is possible, but personal responsibility must take place. Together, we should work to ensure all people have the opportunity to achieve optimum health.

Courtney Haun, MPH
Ph.D. Candidate
Auburn University
[email protected]


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