Healthcare equity refers to fair and equal access to quality healthcare. In recent years it has become a critical global issue for the healthcare community, generating increasing attention from the likes of the World Health Organisation.
However, despite advances in healthcare, there are still significant disparities in access and outcomes for different populations, particularly for marginalised and underserved groups.
The healthcare industry has a key role to play in addressing these inequalities and ensuring that everyone can achieve equitable healthcare outcomes. However, achieving healthcare equity is a complex challenge that requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach.
Removing barriers to health equity
One major barrier to healthcare equity is the high cost of healthcare, which can disproportionately impact low-income and uninsured individuals. This can lead to financial barriers to care and result in delays in seeking treatment, which can ultimately lead to worse health outcomes.
This is a particular problem in nations with high levels of income equality, or with a stark urban–rural economic divide, such as in the United States, where 80 per cent of rural Americans were identified in 2019 as medically underserved.
In addition, institutional biases and social attitudes can also contribute to healthcare inequities, with certain groups facing discrimination and barriers to care due to their race, ethnicity, gender, or other factors.
For example, in many regions, women have historically faced unequal access to healthcare due to discrimination, cultural biases, and economic barriers. This has often resulted in women receiving lower quality healthcare and experiencing worse health outcomes compared to men; it has also affected attitudes towards reproductive health, resulting in serious health complications during pregnancy.
Predictably, the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report confirmed that women in developing nations experience greater mortality rates than men in developing nations.
A particular factor contributing to unequal access to healthcare for women is that many women in marginalised communities simply cannot afford the cost of healthcare due to lower wages and lack of insurance coverage.
Addressing the challenges
Addressing these challenges requires implementing policies and initiatives that increase access to affordable and high-quality healthcare. This can include measures such as expanding insurance coverage, implementing price transparency initiatives, and addressing structural and institutional biases within the healthcare system.
In addition, addressing social determinants of health, such as poverty, education, and housing, can also play a crucial role in improving healthcare equity. This might include:
providing low-cost services to those living in low-income households
using mobile health screenings for those without access to transportation
offering late-night health appointments to those who work long hours
providing better education, testing, and treatment access to communities particularly impacted by certain conditions or diseases.
Ultimately, achieving healthcare equity requires a collective effort from all sectors, including healthcare providers and governments. By addressing these challenges, the healthcare industry can help reduce healthcare inequity among different regions and communities.