By Nikia Bergan, president, GetWellNetwork.
Across the United States, persistent and growing gaps in care are driving health disparities and presenting barriers to improving overall health and health outcomes. Many health disparities stem from inherent inequalities in social determinants of health (SDOH), such as where a person lives or works, their education level, and their access to healthcare.
Health equity — defined by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as when everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible — is not a new concern. For decades, health equity has been in the spotlight within the public health realm. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought the topic of health equity to the forefront like never before. Something once discussed only among policy experts, advocates, and health communicators is now mainstream news and discussed around the dinner tables of Americans across the nation every single day.
As COVID-19 quickly spread, it became increasingly apparent that minority patients were disproportionately affected compared to other populations. A recent study found that Black people were 3.57 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people. The reasons are varied: Multigenerational families and insufficient access to care contributed to higher infection and mortality rates for minority populations. This disparity serves as a reminder that systemic inequalities persist across many facets of American society.
Social determinants of health can be far reaching
SDOH often present barriers to care. Research has shown that when assessing a person’s health, their ZIP code is often more predictive than their genetic code. But despite their prevalence, SDOH should never dictate health outcomes or the quality of care a patient receives.