What Is Health Equity and Why Does It Matter?
Do you ever think about why livespan differs across various groups? Why do people who live on one side of New Orleans live 25 years longer than those who live on the other side? Why are African American infants 3.2 times as likely to die than their non-Hispanic, white counterparts?
To answer all of these questions, we must talk about health equity. Rather, we must discuss how we have a lack of health equity. This is referred to as “health inequity.”
To learn more about what health equity is and why health inequity matters, keep reading.
What Is Health Equity?
Believe it or not, health inequity is one of the most dangerous issues facing healthcare today. It refers to the health disparities that create gaps in healthcare for different groups of people.
We use the term “health equity” when we’re talking about shrinking these gaps. We want to remove the gaps that currently exist in the healthcare system to make sure that everyone has access to the quality resources they need to live a healthy life.
We should note that we are talking about equitability rather than equality here. Treating everyone equally is not the same as treating everyone equitably.
For example, if three people were trying to look over a fence to watch a baseball game, you may want to get them stools to help them see. Let’s say that one person is six feet tall, the next person is five feet and five inches tall, and the last person is four feet tall. If they’re trying to look over a seven-foot fence, you can’t give each person a two-foot step stool.
Giving each person a two-foot stool would only help the six-foot-tall individual while leaving the other two blind to the game. This is equality.
Equity would involve giving each person a stool that would help them see the game according to their height. By doing this, each individual can see the game.
As it pertains to healthcare, you can view the stool as how much care a patient is getting. For example, you would give a patient with cancer more care than a patient with no preexisting conditions, provided that they both came into your facility with the same complaint.
What Determines Health Equity?
After learning what health equity is, you’re probably curious as to what determines the equitability of someone’s care. We’re glad you asked.
The social determinants of health are important to think about, especially if you work in a health or social field of any kind. Let’s review the six main determinants of health and discuss why health equity is important.
1. Economic Stability
For a physician to care for you, you need economic stability. This comes in the form of consistent income, but it’s more than that.
To bring this into perspective, let’s talk numbers.
The average person in the United States has less than $5,000 in savings. The average ER bill in 2016 was $1,917. However, experts project that that number has increased even more in the past few years.
Taking into account that a third of the individuals in the United States don’t even have $1,000 saved, it’s understandable that most people can’t pay an emergency bill like an ER visit at any point in time. In fact, the large payment is the reason that many people avoid going to the doctor no matter how sick they are.
However, those who can pay that bill can receive expert care at any point in time. They don’t have to worry about not being able to pay the bill.
2. Neighborhood and Physical Environment
Where you live matters. Whether or not you have housing or transportation matters.
If you have nowhere to live, you’re more likely to have health problems. If you have no way to get to the doctor’s office, you’re not likely to go.
Safety, walkability, and local geography also play into how your physical environment shapes you. It’s important to have landmarks like parks and playgrounds. Areas without these amenities are saturated with more chronic illnesses.
Education is one of the biggest (and most frustrating) barriers to health. If someone doesn’t know that they’re sick, they will not go to the doctor.
A pregnant woman may not know she’s pregnant. A dying man may not know that he has cancer. Neither one can get help if they don’t understand the basic signs of illness.
It also matters that we educate these people about good and bad habits. They may not understand what processed foods are. They might not know what smoking does to their bodies.
However, education goes beyond this. If someone can’t speak English in the United States, it’s harder to get healthcare. Resources and education are too often not available to non-English speaking minorities.
Food insecurity still exists in the United States, even though many people think that it is only a third-world problem. People without access to healthy food are more likely to have health complications and suffer from chronic illness.
Many places that aren’t near farms are plagued with processed foods. If that’s the only food available, people will eat it.
People who don’t have any food are even worse off. Without essential vitamins and nutrients, their bodies are more prone to catching viruses that a well-fed body could fend off.
5. Community and Social Context
Stress and discrimination can harshly affect one’s mental, emotional, and physical health. Having community programs can help people control their health and build better habits.
People who don’t have access to these programs are left to fend for themselves. They may not understand healthy coping mechanisms and proper grieving techniques. Not having the support of a community that understands their specific life experience can take a huge toll on an individual’s mental health.
6. Healthcare System
Lastly, the availability of good healthcare matters. You can have all the money in the world, but – if you aren’t near a quality ER, hospital or clinic – you could still die in an emergency.
We need to implement quality physicians and quality medical supplies across the United States and ensure that we have bilingual providers who can help people of all kinds receive the care they need.
Where Can I Help to Implement Health Equity?
After reading this, we hope you’re fired up about working towards health equity and making the United States a better place for everyone.
We encourage you to join us in volunteering with a variety of programs that are looking to do the same.