Combating Healthcare Disparities
Disparities in healthcare are a real and urgent problem in our nation. There is indisputable data supporting the fact that disparities exist not only across different racial groups, but also across the cultural and economic stratification of our society. Moreover, there is even data showing disparities among each of these respective groups along gender lines. So what can be done about these disparities to assure that all patients receive equal and adequate care? Well, there are certainly many political and governmental changes or modifications that would go a long way towards narrowing the gaps in healthcare, but such changes are beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, I will focus on the steps that I, and all of my colleagues, can take independently to attempt to eliminate healthcare disparities in our own practice.
There are countless contributing factors that might lead to disparate care in the setting of private practice. Aside from disparities that might arise from actual medical decisions made by the physician, there are many more, often quite subtle, factors which play just as important a role in contributing to disparate care. For instance, factors such as the choice of location for practice, billing and payment policies, and the hiring and training of staff, all play a significant role in either introducing or eliminating healthcare disparities. As we are primarily interested in eliminating the preexisting disparities in the system, this paper will attempt to offer practical, yet useful, suggestions of ways to decrease or, preferentially, eliminate disparities caused by each of the above contributing factors.
The first, and most obvious, cause of healthcare disparities is actual decisions by healthcare providers that may directly result in differing levels of care. Whether it be due to preconceived stereotypes, misguided opinions about compliance or expected outcomes, or simply frank prejudice, disparate decisions lead to disparate care nonetheless. Although this is a major contributing factor to healthcare disparities, it may also be the most easily correctable! In many cases, something as simple as educating the providers about the healthcare needs of their underserved patients and eliminating misguided and unfounded stereotypes and preconceptions can dramatically reduce the disparities arising from this factor. In this respect, I feel fortunate in the sense that I have had the opportunity to attend a medical school that realizes the importance of this issue and has taken every possible opportunity to educate and train myself and my fellow colleagues about the implications of these disparities in healthcare. As such, I feel confident that, thanks to my knowledge and awareness of the problem, I can prevent this factor from causing disparities in care within my own practice.
As mentioned previously, another factor that may contribute to disparities in care is the choice of location for a...