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Unpacking Health Equity for Better Health Care Access


Equity is not the same as equality. When a grocery store opens in a neighborhood, for example, everyone that lives close has an equal opportunity to get their food there. However, some residents may not have the ability to access the food at the store, either because of transportation, income, or other limitations. Equity is making sure those individuals can also get the food they need when they need it. Unpacking health equity reveals that similar challenges face populations who are not able to access the healthcare they need when they need it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that health equity:

is achieved when every person has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”

Inequities in healthcare can be seen in the differences in:

  • Life span as well as the quality of life
  • Rates of disease, disability, and death
  • Severity of disease
  • Access to treatment.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) offers a similar definition of health equity:

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.

Elation offers you the solution you need to more effectively engage with your patients before, during, and after the visit.

Achieving health equity depends on a focus not only on reducing disparities in healthcare but also on the social determinants of health that affect individual and population health. They include a range of outcomes in health, functioning, and quality of life. These social determinants of health reflect the environment in which patients live and work, such as:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Health systems and services
  • Housing
  • Income and wealth
  • Physical environment
  • Public safety
  • Social environment
  • Transportation.

Healthcare professionals can take a significant role in improving health outcomes for disadvantaged populations who do not have equitable access to care. Providers can leverage the social, political, and economic power of the healthcare industry to work toward health equity for all patients.

RWJF also offers four key steps to achieving health equity:

  • Identifying the health disparities, often rooted in inequities in the opportunities and available resources that are a part of an individual’s ability to be as healthy as possible.
  • Reducing or eliminating the inequities in those resources and opportunities.
  • Evaluating and monitoring efforts to reduce health disparities.
  • Reassessing strategies and planning next steps, engaging those affected by the health disparities in the design and implementation of health equity solutions.

Health inequities often lead to differences in health outcomes for those affected. The challenges that structural inequities present can limit the scope of opportunities available for individuals to reach their full health potential. Structural inequities can include personal, interpersonal, institutional, and systemic drivers such as:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Classism
  • Able-ism
  • Xenophobia
  • Homophobia

Health equity involves valuing every patient equally with focused and ongoing efforts to address those inequalities that are avoidable. It also requires addressing historical and contemporary injustices as well as healthcare disparities. The ultimate goal of health equity is the attainment of the highest level of health for all people, improving overall health across the country and reducing unnecessary healthcare costs.