By: Sahar Maleki
One of the most pressing issues in our present society is healthcare inequality and a lack of access to care. All people deserve to live healthy lives and should be given the chance to attain their full health potential through access to equal, affordable, culturally competent healthcare services regardless of race, nationality, age, gender, sexuality, education, socioeconomic status, or even geographical issues. Yet, disparities in the current healthcare system are far reaching and they not only impact the length and quality of life of those who suffer, but also the health and well being of the overall population. Even in a city like our hometown of Cleveland, with ample access to famed hospitals, far too many people face roadblocks to seeking care and patients from marginalized groups still face negative outcomes disproportionately. These long-standing, complicated, inequalities have only become magnified during the pandemic and a combined knowledge of medicine and policy, as well as financial management proficiency is imperative in tackling the issues.
There is little doubt that offering equitable health care benefits the whole society, as a healthier population requires less medical care, leading to fewer hospital visits, better disease outcomes, less overall healthcare spending per individual and a healthier, more efficient workforce. Many healthcare models have been set up with the goal of lowering disparities, with the most successful ones being those that have been tailored to fit the needs of local communities. For instance, the Neighbor to Neighbor Initiative, launched by Cleveland Clinic Akron General, aims to improve patient access to care, while the First Year Cleveland Program is set up with the goal of lowering infant mortality which is especially high among minority groups. In addition to such programs, educating the public as well as those working in the healthcare system to be aware of such disparities is important, as are championing initiatives to hire medical professionals from diverse backgrounds, and actively promoting ways to address implicit biases in healthcare settings. Adoption of telehealth technologies, mobile health clinics and low cost neighborhood clinics (such as Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services’ NEON), and other innovative health delivery service options are also important. Additionally, it is of utmost importance to note that inequality in healthcare has deep roots in the society and to eliminate the problem, we should attack the ways in which our societies foster discrimination through mutually reinforcing systems of housing, education, employment, health care and criminal justice. In fact, every one of us has a part to play in developing policies and practices to rid our systems of such biases and inequalities. Every community is different and these issues are complicated. However, one thing is certain: caring for our communities and an equal and just healthcare system is of utmost importance.