As the documented evidence of pervasive health disparities in our system has continued to grow since the release of the 1985 Heckler Report, much of health disparities research has pivoted to the question of how do we reduce disparities and move towards an equitable health system?
There are plenty of places to start. A collection of evidence-based strategies to address health disparities that can be pursued at the state level are listed below:
For states to tackle racial and ethnic health disparities in a meaningful way, there needs to be adequate data to understand local conditions. States can support data collection efforts as follows:
To make a meaningful difference in addressing health disparities, interventions must begin outside of the medical sector and tackle the social determinants of health. When possible, act community wide and address root causes by improving education, housing, food insecurity and other social determinants of health. There are also many interventions that work directly at the patient level and address individual social determinants of health.
Scan for the dominant barriers for accessing healthcare, things like being uninsured/underinsured, transportation issues, provider shortages, etc. and tailor policy solutions to address those barriers. For example:
Health disparities persist even after controlling for disparities in access and social determinants. Improved treatment and patient outcomes for populations of color goes beyond patient perception and satisfaction data. Research has shown that minority physicians are more likely to care for socioeconomically disadvantaged and ethnic minority patients.14 Additionally, studies have demonstrated that unconscious bias may lead to physicians providing different treatments and prescriptions for the same condition, especially when it comes to reported experiences of pain for people of color.15
Strategies to address include growing a diverse healthcare workforce and providing training on cultural humility and implicit bias for existing and future healthcare provider workforces. But it takes time for these approaches to pay dividends. Specific policies include:
If the above interventions are out of reach or there is insufficient data to get started, support state and local meetings on health equity and health disparities. In many communities, this work has already begun and existing bodies are working to achieve health equity. In resources limited environments, often all that can be offered is organizational support or participation, but this contribution is an important one. To achieve the goal of an equitable health system, robust community partnerships are vital in the effort to eliminate health disparities.
1. Rubin, Victor, et al., Counting a Diverse Nation: Disaggregating Data on Race and Ethnicity to Advance a Culture of Health, PolicyLink (August 2018).
2. De Las Nueces, Denise, et al., "A Systematic Review of Community-Based Participatory Research to Enhance Clinical Trials in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups," Health Services Research, Vol. 47, No. 3, Part 2 (June 2012).
3. Cernansky, Rachel, "Screening for Social Problems," U.S. News (Feb. 6, 2019).
4. Castrucci, Brian, and John Auerbach, "Meeting Individual Social Needs Falls Short of Addressing Social Determinants of Health," Health Affairs Blog (Jan. 16, 2019).
5. Wells, Natalie, et al., "The Impact of Nurse Case Management Home Visitation on Birth Outcomes in African-American Women," Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 100, No. 5 (May 2008).
6. Barlow, Allison, et al., "Paraprofessional-Delivered Home-Visiting Intervention for American Indian Teen Mothers and Children: 3-Year Outcomes From a Randomized Controlled Trial," American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 172, No. 2 (February 2015).
7. Savoie-Roskos, Mateja, et al., "Reducing Food Insecurity and Improving Fruit and Vegetable Intake Among Farmers' Market Incentive Program Participants," Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Jan. 1, 2016).
9. Keeton, Victoria, et al., "School-Based Health Centers in an Era of Health Care Reform: Building on History," Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, Vol. 42, No. 6 (July 2012).
10. Marcin, James P., et al., "Addressing Health Disparities in Rural Communities Using Telehealth," Pediatric Research, Vol. 79 (2016).
11. Research Brief No. 19: Improving Healthcare Value in Rural America, Healthcare Value Hub, Washington, D.C. (October 2017).
12. Landers, Stewart, and Mira Levinson, "Mounting Evidence of the Effectiveness and Versatility of Community Health Workers," American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 106, No. 4 (April 2016).
13. Spencer, Michael S., et al., "Effectiveness of a Community Health Worker Intervention Among African American and Latino Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial," American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 101, No. 12 (December 2011).
14. Green, Alexander R., et al., "Implicit Bias Among Physicians and Its Prediction of Thrombolysis Decisions for Black and While Patients," Journal of General Internal Medicine, Vol. 22, No. 9 (September 2007).
15. Wilson, Yolanda, "Dying While Black: Perpetual Gaps Exist in Health Care for African-Americans," The Conversation (Feb. 5, 2019).
16. Mason, Bonnie S., et al., "Pipeline Program Recruits and Retains Women and Underrepresented Minorities in Procdure Based Specialties: A Brief Report," American Journal of Surgery, Vol. 213, No. 4 (April 2017).
17. Grumbach, Kevin, and Eric Chen, "Effectiveness of University of California Postbaccalaureate Premedical Programs in Increasing Medical School Matriculation for Minority and Disadvantaged Students," JAMA, Vol. 296, No. 9 (September 2006).
18. Powe, Neil R., and Lisa A. Cooper, Disparities in Patient Experiences, Health Care Processes, and Outcomes: The Role of Patient-Provider Racial, Ethnic, and Language Concordance, The Commonwealth Fund, New York, N.Y (July 1, 2004).
19. Cooper, Lisa A., Patient-Centered Communication, Ratings of Care, and Concordance of Patient and Physician Race, The Commonwealth Fund, New York, N.Y. (Dec. 1, 2003).
20. Govere, Linda, and Ephraim M. Govere, "How Effective is Cultural Competence Training of Healthcare Providers on Improving Patient Satisfaction of Minority Groups? A Systematic Review of Literature," Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, Vol. 13, No. 6 (Oct. 25, 2016).