What is health equity? Defined simply, health equity means that peoples of all communities have a fair opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Beyond receiving quality care, this equality of health includes access to adequate housing, education, and safe community environments. This concept assumes that one can not only receive equal care, but that one can pursue a healthy lifestyle regardless of their net worth, cultural background, or residence.
The Inequities of Our Current System
Due to the inequalities of our society, not everyone receives the same opportunity to pursue a healthy lifestyle, nor do they have access to quality care.
In our current state, we see inequalities influenced by social determinants of health (SDH), meaning societal factors that influence one’s overall health outcomes for better or for worse. These SDH include non-medical circumstances such as location, income, employment, nutrition access, and social support networks. Due to these current health disparities, average life expectancy varies by roughly 25 years on average between neighborhoods across the U.S., correlating with higher rates of obesity, infant mortality, violence and chronic disease.
What makes addressing health disparity difficult is that each social determinant is unique, influencing health outcomes in a myriad of ways. For instance, there is health equity research that show race, gender and ethnicity contribute to health disparity and unequal treatment. Unintentional and intentional biases amongst healthcare professionals play a significant role in the kind of treatment one receives, as the care of certain groups is sometimes prioritized over others. This discrimination extends to age as well but in different ways. For instance, some healthcare professionals may assume a diagnosis based on aging rather than taking a more critical examination of a particular issue. On top of that, clinical trials don’t always include elderly communities, which can create inaccurate results when testing the effects of certain medications. Tackling discriminatory health treatment is incredibly important, especially as the U.S. population ages and becomes more diverse.
Geographic location can also act as a major contributor to perpetuating health disparity, as many healthcare facilities reside in and around metropolitan areas. In a recent study of endocrinologists, 95.4% of these healthcare professionals operated out of more populated areas, while only 2% served rural communities which results in limited access to care for those in remote areas.
US healthcare is also incredibly expensive. According to data by Health System Tracker, health spending in the United States averaged out around $10,996 per person in 2019. This average spend ranked as the highest in the world when compared alongside other wealthy countries, far outpacing Switzerland, the next highest ranked country in healthcare spending, by 42%. Unequal access to insurance only worsens the issue within the US, as for many, health insurance is tied to employment, and not every employer provides adequate care plans. According to data from the US Census Bureau roughly 26.1 million Americans were without health insurance in 2019, which amounts to approximately 8% of the total population.
These are some of the major obstacles that stand in the way of reaching a more equitable society. Tackling these issues may appear like a vast undertaking, but solutions exist that could steer our current systems in the right direction and address the issue of unequal health outcomes.
How to Begin to Solve Our Health Inequity Issue
The path to creating greater equity is nuanced and requires a multi-pronged approach and can require a variety of large- and small-scale strategies. As a society, there are many steps we could take to get closer to this state of healthcare equilibrium. Some of these actions include:
- Make equitable care a priority.
- Develop social structures that support equity in education, income, housing, employment, and workforce structure.
- Educate communities on the nature of social determinants of health disparities.
- Partner with organizations that promote health to underserved areas.
On the large scale, enacting effective government policy can be the most straightforward way to solve some of the biggest hurdles in creating a society that is more equitable. For instance, the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2014, was a large government policy that attempted to reform our current health system in the hopes of addressing some of the problems surrounding access to care. While the results of this bill were varied across the nation, large government policy targeted at reducing health insurance costs, expanding access to health centers in rural areas, and regulating aspects of the industry could go a long way in helping make treatment more accessible.
Community health centers specifically act as a buffer against health disparities for those living in underserved areas. These health care centers often receive funding from the federal government and provide a wide range of services that broaden access to healthcare to those in need including treatment, transportation, and healthcare education. Community health centers receive funding from the federal government, and in order to expand would also require new policies focused on growth and further monetary support.
Beyond government policy, inequities caused by racial and age bias can be unlearned through focused training of our healthcare professionals. Practices like cultural humility training can work to promote more equal treatment of patients regardless of their culture, race, ethnicity, or age.
The economic hurdles that create an unequal opportunity for healthy living between communities may require more nuanced work to undo. However, one of the simplest methods of achieving health equity related to income is to separate finances from the opportunity to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Doing so would include expanding access to health insurance regardless of employment and offering foundations for people to make more health-centric choices in their lives.
The Role of GPOs in Working Towards Health Equity
CNECT plays a significant role in working to expand health equity through memberships that provide GPO contracts to support the specific needs of community health centers.
CNECT is a part of the Health Center Partners Family of Companies (FOC) and was created as the for-profit arm to support their efforts towards health equity. The FOC consists of four organizations that work cooperatively to ensure access to quality care for communities across Southern California and by advocating for healthcare policy, working to improve health outcomes, implementing standards of care, and ensuring supply-chain transparency.
At CNECT, health equity is a major part of our mission. We work to ensure healthcare centers are fully supplied to provide equitable treatment to the communities they serve. During the COVID-19 pandemic for instance, CNECT acted as a valuable resource for our Board Member Health Centers, ensuring greater equity for communities in need. When supplies were scarce, we donated a wide variety of resources to our members including PPE, nitrile gloves, ultra-low freezers, refrigerators and ear-loop masks.
Contact CNECT today learn more about our mission towards health equity and how you can become a member.