Health equity means ensuring that everyone has the chance to be as healthy as possible. However, factors outside of a person’s control, such as discrimination and lack of resources, can prevent them from achieving their best health. Working toward health equity is a way to correct or challenge these factors.
This article will define and address the concept of health equity and outline ways to improve it.
Health equity means ensuring that every person has the opportunity to achieve their best health.
Unfortunately, many social and environmental factors can limit a person’s access to and continued use of good health practices and healthcare. These are health inequities.
Examples of these obstacles include:
- racial and ethnic discrimination
- lack of access to quality education
- income and wealth gaps
- inadequate housing or lack of housing
- unsafe environments
By reducing, challenging, or overcoming these obstacles, people can achieve health equity. However, this is rarely something that a person can do for themselves. Instead, it requires adaptive changes from community and healthcare organizations and governments.
People use many different terms when it comes to accessing healthcare, including health disparity, health equality, and health equity.
Health disparity is a difference that affects a person’s ability to achieve their best health. Examples of health disparities include race, gender, education, income, disability, geographic location, and sexual orientation.
Health disparities create health inequities.
Due to their differences or situation, some people do not always have access to the same opportunities to better their health that other people have. A health disparity is often beyond an individual’s control.
Two concepts refer to how to correct these health disparities: health equality and health equity.
Health equality vs. health equity
Health equality means everyone has the same opportunities. Examples could include a community center offering free or low-cost checkups to everyone.
Health equity means that people have opportunities based on their needs. An example could be the same health center charging people based on their ability to pay. A person who cannot afford care may receive it for free while another person may pay for the same care.
In short, health equality means everyone receives the same standard, while health equity means everyone receives individualized care to bring them to the same level of health.
Health equality is not always preferable. For example, if a clinic offers free checkups every morning, a person who must work during the morning cannot take advantage of this service. While the clinic offers checkups to everyone on the same terms, some people still cannot take advantage of the service.
Health equity would involve offering alternative checkup times in the afternoon or evening, so everyone can access the service at a time that suits them.
Examples of services that promote health equity include:
- Providing health seminars and courses that are specific to the needs of certain ethnic communities and racial groups.
- Providing low-cost services to those living in a low income household.
- Using mobile health screenings to help those who may not have access to transportation.
- Offering evening or late-night health appointments to those who work long hours and are unable to access care.
- Providing better education, testing, and treatment access to communities particularly impacted by certain conditions or diseases.
To promote health equity, government and community organizations must acknowledge and attempt to remove barriers to care.
Groups who do not have health equity are those that are traditionally disenfranchised and discriminated against through no fault of their own. Examples include:
- racial and ethnic minorities
- people living in a low income household
- members of the LGBTQ+ community
Members of these communities are more likely to experience barriers to care and health, such as violence, low income, and poor living conditions.
Gaining health equity takes a combination of political, community, and personal efforts. An individual cannot usually correct all factors that affect their health equity. They can benefit from programs and professionals that assist them.
Individuals and organizations can take steps to help individuals achieve health equity.
The following are some steps to take:
- Identify how health disparities in a community affect specific groups.
- Recognize that each person has their own racial and ethnic biases and learn how to recognize when a policy or environment may exclude (sometimes unintentionally) a person or group.
- Show respect to people of all groups and make efforts to involve all groups in enacting change. This means that if someone is going to start a policy or program that addresses health disparities, they should ask the people they are trying to reach if the particular program will help them.
- Frequently evaluate how well policies aimed at health equity are working. Make changes when necessary to ensure these policies are most effective.
- Encourage people to contribute, using their talents, time, and gifts. An example could include tutoring students to help them obtain their high school diploma or a healthcare professional volunteering their time to help at a clinic.
To promote health equity, a person must work with others to lift healthcare barriers whenever possible.
Several national, state, and local organizations are committed to promoting health equity. Some resources include:
- American Public Health Association
- Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
- National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
- Office of Health Equity
Many states have a health equity department that offers training and education on health equity opportunities.
Other local resources to try include community health departments, universities, community centers, cultural centers, and more.
Health equity is something that takes time and effort to address. But it is the contributions of individuals who are willing to help others have access to safe and non-judgmental healthcare that can genuinely make a difference.
By modeling and promoting health equity, individuals and organizations can improve healthcare for those living with health disparities.