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Reducing health disparities is a vital goal in improving public health. Health disparities can result in preventable differences in health outcomes, particularly for those that are in a socially disadvantaged population. 

In 2023, healthcare providers should prioritize reducing health disparities. Here are some effective strategies that can significantly reduce health disparities.

What Are Health Disparities?

Health disparities are the differences in health outcomes due to differences in access to care among different socioeconomic groups This affects individuals from all walks of life and is a major issue in healthcare and today’s society in general. Factors such as age, income, educational background, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation can cause these health disparities.

Not only are individuals affected, but communities are also impacted by health disparities. Health disparities can lead to much higher rates of illness and death, lower quality of life, and lower economic productivity in the community that it impacts.

Examples of health disparities include African Americans who suffer from diabetes and heart disease at a far greater rate than other racial groups and people that identify as LGBTQ+ experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety or depression at far greater rates than heterosexual populations. These issues are exacerbated in those that are considered lower-income or minority populations. Populations such as these are the ones that experience the brunt of health disparities.

Related: Disparities in End-of-Life Care in Patients with Multiple Myeloma

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Health Disparity Factors

Here are some of the factors that health disparity affects.

Burden of Disease

The burden of disease is the impact that living with injury and illness causes, including premature death. While many health statistics focus on mortality, the burden of disease focuses on the suffering that people go through while living with the disease rather than dying from it. The disease burden is usually measured by the number of years of active and productive living lost due to disability or premature death caused by illness.

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Since populations that experience health disparities tend to suffer from health outcomes that are worse than their peers from other socioeconomic groups, it is clear that there is a direct correlation between the two. 

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Life Expectancy

Health disparities have a significant impact on life expectancy. There is a link between health disparities and a higher risk of illness and even death since individuals who come from disadvantaged or lower-income socioeconomic backgrounds do not have adequate access to preventative healthcare. Lack of access to healthcare can lead to a higher rate of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.

Mortality

Mortality rates among people who experience health disparity are higher than those in more privileged populations. Populations that are socioeconomically disadvantaged often experience poorer health outcomes leading to higher mortality rates since they are more likely to have their illness treated or managed improperly.

Mental Health

Patients that are affected by health disparities are at a higher risk of experiencing a variety of mental health issues, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. This can be attributed to individuals in these vulnerable and disadvantaged populations experiencing significantly more stressors, such as trauma, discrimination, and poverty. These experiences can cause considerable psychological distress and can raise the risk of developing mental health issues.

Strategies to Reduce Health Disparities

Although health disparities can have a significant negative impact on vulnerable populations, there are a few ways to mitigate the damage. Here are some strategies that you can use to reduce health disparities.

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Increase Health Literacy Through Community Education

Health literacy refers to a patient’s ability to understand and utilize health information and services to the extent that they can make informed decisions about their own well-being and health. Increasing health literacy by educating the communities that are considered to be disadvantaged is an effective way to reduce health disparities.

Starting an education program in communities with vulnerable populations is a great way to start increasing health literacy. Use community gathering places like the library, public schools, community centers, and local government events to hold classes, workshops, and informational seminars that will educate the community on how to access and understand health information and services. 

Related: Addressing Black Patients’ Distrust of Healthcare Providers

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Increase Access to Resources

Increasing access to resources will play a big part in reducing the harm caused by health disparities. This includes expanding health programs like Medicaid, CHIP, and those that offer free or low-cost preventative care

Medicaid and CHIP are both programs that ensure that adults on limited incomes and children are provided medical care for free or at a low cost. Expanding these programs to include more populations that are considered disadvantaged can greatly increase access to care in underserved areas and reduce health disparities caused by lack of access to care.

Culturally Competent Providers

Culturally competent healthcare providers can reduce health disparities by allowing a patient to comfortably communicate and fully disclose their medical history. Healthcare providers that take the time to understand and respect the beliefs, practices, and values of their patients create a culturally sensitive and supportive environment that encourages patient compliance and therefore produces better patient outcomes.

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Final Thoughts

Reducing health disparities should be a part of every provider’s goals this year. Try these strategies to make a difference in health disparities by the end of 2023.