Update: Addressing Health Disparities

The October issue of Health Affairs contains an article on health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities.  The article also discusses tried-and-true and newer interventions to address the problem.  You can read the article here.

The article reiterates what we already know: racial and ethnic minorities receive worse health care and have poorer health outcomes than non-minorities.  The same holds for disabled and low-income persons.  One study pegged the cost of preventable conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke among African Americans and Hispanics at $23.9 billion in 2009.    Between 2003 and 2006, health disparities cost an estimated $1.2 trillion in lost wages and productivity.

Barriers that create disparities also include: geography and neighborhoods; the environment; stress; poor access to care; an inability to navigate complex health systems; provider ignorance or bias; language barriers and patient non-adherence.

Active interventions are occurring at the national level, such as the Department of Health and Human Service’s new Million Hearts campaign, aimed at reducing stroke and heart attacks among minorities.  The Veterans Administration has implemented comprehensive system improvements that have resulted in greatly reduced health disparities.  The Indian Health Services has increased screenings for prevalent problems such as obesity, alcohol abuse and diabetes.  Lastly, the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) is designed to increase insurance coverage for 32 million more people and to expand access to community health centers.  The ACA also aims to increase health care workforce diversity to help address disparities.

Closer to home, groups such New York City’s Hispanic Federation have become a leading force in addressing health disparities through facilitated enrollment, advocacy, education, health screenings and cancer prevention awareness.  To learn more, go to Hispanic Federations’s website.

Update: Another organization from the University at Albany, Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities, helps promote the development of health disparities research.  Their purpose is to  build capacity for health disparities research at the University at Albany by identifying community needs, focusing on barriers to utilization of prevention programs and health care, and to begin scientific projects with community groups to test programs that may reduce barriers and improve health.

-Jaime Venditti, 10/13/11, 10/17/11