Health and Health Care: How Communities Are Addressing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities
Today, we look at how community outreach efforts are addressing racial and ethnic disparities in health care by spreading awareness and promoting prevention.
As the American health care system undergoes increasing scrutiny by government and public alike, racial and ethnic health disparities have been highlighted as a matter of particular concern, and for good reason. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African American men, in comparison to non-Hispanic white men:
Are 1.3 times as likely to have new cases of lung cancer
Are 1.4 times as likely to have new cases of prostate cancer
Have lower 5-year survival rates for lung, colon, and pancreatic cancer
Are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes
Are 60% more likely to have a stroke
The list goes on.
Many cite lack of insurance, poorer quality of care, shortages of healthcare professionals in underserved areas, and a dearth of data on racial and ethnic minority populations as only a few of the many issues that exacerbate an already strained situation.
“Although the health of Americans has generally improved over the past twenty-five years, certain communities are persistently left behind,” says Thomas Fisher, MD, MPH, vice president at Health Care Service Corporation and former leader in the development of the Department of Health and Human Service’s (HSS) Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. These health disparities, says Dr. Fisher, are one of the reasons Americans spend more on health care, often with poorer results, than their first-world counterparts.
Dr. Fisher says that Americans need to change the way they think about wellness. “We need to decouple the notions of health and health care,” he says. “Health is constructed at home, at school, and in our communities. Health care is something that happens at our doctors’ offices.”
While health and healthcare are linked, they are different, he says. “We’ve been focusing a lot on health care and the resolution of illness, rather than the maintenance of health, and I think that that paradigm needs to and is changing.”
This paradigm shift can be seen in the government’s Healthy People 2020, which outlines the HHS’s 10-year objectives for improving the health of Americans. Another big player in the conversation is the HHS’s Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, a seminal document that builds upon Healthy People 2020 that Dr. Fisher helped author.
Both government strategies are particularly concerned with social determinants of health, factors that have been proven to greatly affect health outcomes. Access to education and jobs, socioeconomic status, transportation options, racial discrimination, residential segregation, and access to resources such as safe housing and local food markets are just some of many social determinants that influence health disparities. Taking into account the diverse needs and circumstances of all Americans led Dr. Fisher to say, “A rising tide has not lifted all boats. We need to focus efforts to improve the health of all Americans.”
Dennis "Denny Moe" Mitchell at his barbershop
Community events, such as Cutting For A Cure which provides free health screenings at Denny Moe’s Superstar Barbershop in Harlem, New York City, during a 48-hour marathon, seek to emphasize the importance of health as well as health care. Cutting for a Cure is the brainchild of barber Dennis “Denny Moe” Mitchell, who felt compelled to take action after being diagnosed with Type II diabetes. “Most African-American men don’t like to go to the doctor or even discuss their health,” he explained. “There is a need for raising awareness of health issues that unevenly affect minorities in urban areas, and the neighborhood barbershop is the ideal gathering place to educate the community that disease prevention is the best method of living a healthy life.”
“I think Cutting For A Cure is a perfect example of focusing on health rather than on health care,” said Dr. Fisher. “It’s a great way to concentrate less on the health care setting and more on how we maintain our health and prevent illness where we live, learn, work, and play.”