Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.— Rick Riordan.
Everybody deserves to live a full and healthy life. Unfortunately due to social, economic, and environmental factors, not everyone has fair access to the health care and education they need. When it comes to allocating medical resources among people, many people argue the need for providing all patients with the same treatment (equality) or to treat them based on their needs (equity).
Equality in healthcare is touted as a viable solution to addressing disparities inherent to our healthcare system. It might be a good strategy to accomplish short-term goals to improve patient outcomes for those facing issues due to the disparities that exist. However, focusing on addressing health equity might offer a better long-term solution to creating policies that can mitigate the inequitable distribution of healthcare access and health education for the more vulnerable population.
The Need for Equity in Healthcare | Limitations of Equality
Equity in healthcare focuses on addressing practices in the healthcare industry that have led to inequality. It means researching the ways in which poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression can create obstacles to adequate care for marginalized people. Health equality calls for equal treatment for all patients. Health equity makes treatment and care based on individual needs a priority.
Disparities in healthcare highlight the necessity to address social justice in the healthcare system and the limitations of equality. Disparities in health can lead to people from socially disadvantaged groups experiencing preventable health differences that they might otherwise avoid with proper health education.
- Lack of access to proper health education can lead to increased behaviors with a negative impact on health, such as drinking, smoking, or not seeking mental health care.
- Environmental hazards like unsafe environments, violence, and pollution also add to the disparities.
- Poverty can also contribute to inequalities in healthcare due to poor nutrition since healthy food might be cost-prohibitive for many.
Equality can go a long way in making healthcare safer and more accessible for all, but equity is what can address the disparities that exist in access to healthcare. Equality does not always work in practice because some people require more support. People disproportionately affected due to socioeconomic factors require an equitable approach to addressing their problems.
An equitable approach aims to offer everyone the opportunity to achieve their highest level of health — implying the need to provide additional resources and attention to people with health problems due to external factors not under their control.
Achieving Equity in Healthcare
Healthcare professionals can and should play a more proactive role in pursuing improvements in health outcomes for disadvantaged and marginalized people. It is important for healthcare organizations working towards improving patient outcomes to commit to enacting equity in healthcare.
Making healthcare equity a leadership-driven priority will be critical in defining the path. Healthcare leaders must develop structures and processes that support equity. Different health systems must identify the disparities that exist and the specific needs of people facing those disparities. Taking action to address the gaps leading to the disparities should be the next step.
Some populations might require additional support from health systems to achieve the same optimized health outcomes as patients with access to better facilities.
Most importantly, health systems should partner with community organizations to confront and address institutional racism. Determining the structures, policies, and norms that perpetuate oppressive advantages and dismantling them will be critical in achieving equity in healthcare.
A few other steps health systems can take to resolve the barriers created by disparities include:
- Ensuring that elderly people and all marginalized populations have adequate representation in clinical trials.
- Guarding against the potential for bias in impacting medical care practices.
- Making a commitment to help low-income, non-English-speaking, and other disadvantaged patients get access to healthcare that adequately addresses their problems.
Bridging the gap between health and health care has more to do with socioeconomic factors than we give it credit. Several non-medical reasons like education, employment, safe environments, proper housing, access to healthy food, and much more also shape people’s wellbeing. Health professionals in the US are skilled at treating a wide range of injuries, diseases, and other medical conditions. However, the healthcare system is not equipped to address the root causes of many health problems that exist outside the system.
The US spent $4.1 trillion on healthcare in 2020, with health spending increasing by 9.7% between 2019 and 2020. Yet, many Americans — even those with access to health insurance, college education, and higher incomes — are less healthy compared to people in other developed nations.https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/u-s-spending-healthcare-changed-time/
A substantial portion of the health spending is on treatment. Any initiatives to create social supports tailored to prevent health problems from occurring in the first place are not given the same priority.
Healthcare is crucial to health, but healthcare alone cannot address inequity in healthcare. Patients should be provided social and economic resources that tackle the root causes. Increasing awareness in patients about these resources and helping them access them could greatly improve patient outcomes and overall community health.
The Need for Continuing Education in Nursing and its Role in Health Equity
Achieving equity in healthcare is possible when everyone has fair opportunities to enjoy full health. Nurses are uniquely positioned to play a significant role in resolving the root causes of poor health. The role of nurses is evolving with the healthcare industry. They can reenvision the health equity landscape in the coming years by exploring more possibilities within their roles.
In terms of education and training, the learning programs for nurses should allow a degree of flexibility to empower nurses to practice a degree of control over what they do and how much they learn. Nursing continuing education courses, whether taken in classroom settings or through online continuing education courses, should provide nurses the opportunities to learn new information in the changing healthcare landscape.
The basic thread of knowledge regarding patient care is consistent throughout healthcare. However, looking through the lens of achieving equity in healthcare and increasing awareness of the underlying issues can help each nurse equip themselves with knowledge beyond nursing school through nursing continuing education.