ooner or later, we all get sick, and we all need healthcare.

Of course, not all Americans have equal access to healthcare. Some of us can’t afford it. Some live far from quality providers. Some experience bias based on race, sex, age, or gender identity.

The result?

People suffer and die from health problems they could have avoided — if they’d gotten the care they needed.

Untreated conditions require more expensive treatments down the line. And — whether it’s the person, the hospital, health insurance, or the government — someone has to pay for it.

Low health literacy and less access to healthcare for some people means higher healthcare costs for everyone.

February is Black History Month. Research shows that historically, people of color often receive poorer healthcare than white people, for many reasons. This is known as healthcare inequality, and it’s a problem that affects us all.

We asked Dr. Seth Serxner, PhD, MPH, EdLogics Chief Health Officer, to answer some key questions about healthcare inequality — and why we all should care.

What are healthcare disparities?

Basically, it means that not everyone has equal access to healthcare or health education. Those disparities have been documented among African Americans, women, the elderly, the LGBTQ+ community, and many ethnic groups.

How do disparities in access to healthcare disproportionately affect communities of color?

Disparities in healthcare can occur because of provider bias. The providers themselves may or may not be aware they have certain biases.

This is also an issue: Currently available medical science tends to be based on clinical findings of white male study participants. Those results may or may not generalize to people of color, women — anyone who is not a white male.

Disparities in health literacy put those populations who are already experiencing disparities in service at an even greater disadvantage. Because of a lower ability to understand health information and navigate the system, they are not as well equipped to advocate for themselves or others in their care.

Why should everyone care?

Health disparities put people’s lives and health at risk. For example, women are often not treated for heart attacks with the same urgency as men, which puts women at greater risk of death.

Delayed treatment or lack of treatment for people of color can lead to later stage disease diagnosis or disease mismanagement, which in turn may lead to more serious health consequences.

In addition to the unnecessary pain and suffering, there are increased cost consequences of treating people at later disease stages. These greater costs affect the healthcare system as a whole and result in greater costs for everyone.

👉 Overall, the goal of health equity is to provide everyone the opportunity to live healthy and active lives by addressing disparities in healthcare and health literacy. 👈

Equally important are social health essentials and personal determinants of health — such as housing and access to nutritious food, having social connections, a sense of purpose, and a positive outlook.

What can everyone do about it?

Our healthcare system needs to do a better job of training medical professionals about health disparities and help them be aware of their biases.

Those that pay for healthcare, such as insurance companies and employers, need to hold providers accountable for disparities with key performance metrics.

And individuals — regardless of ethnic background or gender identity — can strive to be prepared to advocate for themselves and others by increasing their health literacy.

At the community and employer level, providing opportunities for people to increase their health literacy is key to addressing this issue.

It’s important to note that our health system is complicated and health information is complex. Translating public health and clinical information to the personal level is challenging for most people from all walks of life. Low health literacy does not necessarily mean low literacy — some very intelligent and well-read people find it difficult to navigate our health system no matter their education level. It is NOT an issue of intelligence.

No matter who you are or what you know, you can and should improve your health literacy. It could save you some pain, some money, and even your life.

Log in now. Learn more about healthcare inequality, how it affects all of us, and what we can do about it.

(This is an example of the weekly newsletters that go out to all users of The EdLogics Platform, a gamified space that improves employee engagement and health literacy. Contact us to learn how to get access for your organization.)

Originally posted 
Feb 2, 2024