Kovner and Knickman (2008) describe health disparities as health problems common to specific populations, and they differentiate health care disparities as a “[reflection of] the interaction of health care access and utilization with broader societal issues related to racial and ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender differences” (p. 421). Many social groups take part in risky behaviors. If these social groups are drawn along certain socio-economic lines, then it would appear that there is a causal relationship between socio-economics and certain illnesses or injuries when the correlation is truly the risk-taking behavior. Blacks having a ten-fold incidence of AIDS over whites may be related to preliminary health education with no causal relationship to the access of health care (Kovner et al., 2008). Additionally, Kovner et al. point out a higher incidence of Blacks leaving emergency departments before being cared for. Could this be a result of Blacks seeking emergent care for non-emergent problems? Certainly, there are health problems and health care problems common to specific populations.
Initially, when considering racial and ethnic differences, my views revolve around socioeconomic determinants where causal relationships are not what many would consider. Most, I imagine, would consider the cause of poor care to be uncaring health care professionals, but I would venture that the attitudes of some health professionals are the end-result that correlates to poor care. If a health care provider treats patients who continually dismiss their poor health or take part in risky health behavior without considering the long-term effects, the health care professional becomes dispassionate and disconnected, mistrusting patients, and delivering care that is substandard, but presumed to be aligned with the responsibilities taken by the patients, generally speaking. Ergo, if they don’t care, why should I? This generalization creates a common distrust between patient and provider. Aside from the patient-provider relationship, there seems to be a more daunting issue of access to health insurance, which obviates the correlation to a lack of health care access. What are the causes of these disparities?
How do we address the disparities in health care? First, we need to identify if there are truly disparities, what they are exactly, and what is causing them. Recent research suggests a need to find the methods most appropriate to tackle these questions (Kirby, Taliaferro, & Zuvekas, 2006; Lê Cook, McGuire, Meara, & Zaslavsky, 2009; Lê Cook, McGuire, & Zuvekas, 2009). Do we need to understand the problem? Educating both the providers and patients effectively in how to approach each other as well as instituting quality improvement strategies within each health care practice should assure, at least retrospectively, that all patients within a practice would get the same care as any other patient treated by that practice. Additionally, providing patient education about how to access health care appropriately and effectively would help to avoid some of the pitfalls common in our health care system. Some of which may be attributable causes to many of the health care disparities of today.
In conclusion, I feel that many of the health care disparities are not caused by the health care system, though the relationship is noticeable. There are many other factors that need to be considered, and as Kirby et al. point out, “Researchers and policymakers may need to broaden the scope of factors they consider as barriers to access if the goal of eliminating disparities in health care is to be achieved” (p. I64).
Kirby, J. B., Taliaferro, G., & Zuvekas, S. H. (2006) Explaining racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Official Journal of Medical Care, 44(5), I64-I72. doi:10.1097/01.mlr.0000208195.83749.c3
Kovner, A. R., Knickman, J. R., & Jonas, S. (Eds.). (2008). Jonas & Kovner’s health care delivery in the United States (9th ed.). New York, NY: Springer.
Lê Cook, B., McGuire, T. G., Meara, E., & Zaslavsky, A. M. (2009). Adjusting for Health Status in Non-Linear Models of Health Care Disparities [Manuscript]. Health Service Outcomes Research Methodologies, 9(1), 1–21. doi:10.1007/s10742-008-0039-6
Lê Cook, B., McGuire, T. G., & Zuvekas, S. H. (2009). Measuring Trends in Racial/Ethnic Health Care Disparities [Manuscript]. Medical Care Research Review, 66(1), 23-48. doi:10.1177/1077558708323607