After more than a decade of asking why factors such as race, ethnicity, income, gender and sexual orientation often correlate with worse health and healthcare quality for so many Americans, perhaps the biggest question is what can healthcare providers do about it.
Some policy experts say the solutions are beyond the reach of healthcare organizations.
“I think there's a view in this country that this can all be solved by healthcare,” said Lisa Dubay, a senior fellow at the Health Policy Center for the Urban Institute. “There's this whole world out there that contributes outside of the doctor's office to these types of disparities, and I think it's hard for the healthcare system to fix those.”
Increasing insurance coverage and access to providers for underserved populations has been the primary focus. Indeed, research shows the coverage expansions under the Affordable Care Act have helped move the needle on health disparities among racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups.
But some providers and researchers are also realizing that's just the starting point, and the healthcare system needs to make deeper changes and take on new roles. The issue promises to be an even greater concern for healthcare organizations in the coming years. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the number of Americans who identify as being an ethnic or racial minority will surpass whites as the majority of the U.S. population by 2043.
Last week, the National Institutes of Health launched two centers that will study the impact of environment—the family, local community, healthcare system—on a person's health.
The centers will serve as regional hubs for community organizations, doctors, nurses and institutions to collaborate on health interventions.