What is Health Equity? Definition & Policy Examples
5 Steps to Improve Healthcare Equity in the Workplace
Many people hear the word “health equity” and they think of a person’s ability to manage their health, meaning access to doctors and the medical resources they need. However, this term extends beyond just having access to healthcare.
As of 2020, 28 million Americans had no health insurance, resulting in exorbitant out-of-pocket costs. But where does this disparity come from? Low equity in healthcare occurs for a range of reasons. Understanding the health equity definition and the factors that contribute to low levels of equity are vital for creating impactful health equity policies.
So what is health equity and what can you do about it?
What is Health Equity?
Achieving health equity means providing people with the opportunity to not just achieve their best possible state of health, but to give them access to the tools they need to manage their health — without breaking the bank. The concept is simple enough, but there are a range of obstacles that limit access to healthcare and prevent people from effectively managing their health. Some of the main obstacles that impact health equity include:
- Education disparities
- Racial discrimination
- Ethnic discrimination
- Income gaps
- Lack of housing
- Unsafe environments
These factors alone lead to lower life expectancies and an increased risk of health problems, which when combined with limited access to healthcare only compounds the problem.
For example, infant mortality rates in Native Americans and Alaska Natives are a staggering 60% higher than in Caucasian communities. Another example of the impact of health equity is obesity rates. Non-Hispanic black adults had an obesity rate of 10% more than white adults.
Note that health disparity and health equity are not the same thing. Disparities create inequities and refer to the factors that lead to healthcare inequity, such as those listed above. In most cases, disparities are beyond the individual’s control.
How Does Health Equity Work?
Health equity is a measurement of the factors that limit a person’s ability to manage their health. The purpose of measuring health equity is empowering a fair and just healthcare system.
Common causes of health inequities include lack of education, poor career prospects, wage gaps, social environments, an absence of community and government initiatives, and more. These factors not only maintain health inequity, but bolster it.
Policymakers and industry experts view the health equity measurement as essential for gauging the state of the nation’s health. Achieving true health equity will require adaptive policies on all fronts, from local communities all the way up to the highest levels of government.
Why is Health Equity Important?
Health equity is important for one big, obvious reason: unequal access to healthcare. However, there are several other reasons achieving health equity is crucial. For example, between 2019 and 2020, the average American life expectancy declined by 1.9 years. While COVID-19 can partially be blamed, this decrease was eight times higher than in other developed countries.
Health inequity is the cause of this decrease in many ways. For example, many people find themselves with a scarcity of hospitals nearby, an inability to pay for treatments, and a lack of education on how to maintain their health.
Studies have also shown that low income contributes to poor health, and poor health contributes to lower incomes. For example, people with disabilities may find themselves unable to live independently or be discriminated against professionally. It’s a vicious circle that continues to impoverish countless communities across the nation.
What is health equity’s impact on our economy? The truth is there’s a serious economic cost to health inequity. One study estimated that inequities cost the U.S. economy $54 billion to $61 billion annually and proved the endless cycle: poverty increases healthcare inequities and health inequities worsen poverty.
Examples of Healthcare Equity
All health equity examples focus on removing barriers to care. Here are a few examples of services that promote health equity:
- Providing low-cost, basic healthcare services to low-income neighborhoods.
- Mobile health screenings to provide treatment to those without transportation.
- Offering free health seminars targeted toward the health issues of minority groups.
- Providing health appointments after hours so that employees can see a doctor without taking time off work.
- Offering better employer-funded healthcare programs.
There are many ways to promote health equity, whether you’re a politician, business owner, or regular citizen looking to make a change. However, it’s important to note that health inequity requires acknowledgment and a commitment to change. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.
How is Equity in Healthcare Measured?
Health equity is notoriously difficult to measure due to the multiple, complex layers that need to be addressed. Researchers must study the various demographics of a country, including health equity metrics like socioeconomics, race and ethnicities, gender, geography, sexual orientation, and disability. The complexity of this research means that it takes years to capture a realistic image of health equity.
To measure the progress of health equity, researchers will look at the relative and absolute differences between groups nationwide. These numbers will be compared to previous numbers to understand whether inequity is increasing or not.
How to Improve Health Equity
Knowing how to achieve health equity is crucial for improving every aspect of society, from supporting local communities to the wider economy. Luckily, taking steps toward health equity doesn’t lie in the hands of governments alone. Employers can take strides towards achieving health equity, which benefits society, the economy, and organizations. In fact, companies with health equity initiatives in place often enjoy higher productivity, increased job satisfaction, and lower healthcare costs.
Let’s run through the five steps to improve health equity in the workplace.
The first step is to identify the way in which disparities impact specific groups. It’s not enough to simply designate a community as either underserved or underprivileged. Inequity goes far deeper than the surface. Disparities within communities are just as important as disparities between communities. It’s important to take a hard look at the dynamics of an organization, even if it's ugly. Remember what we said earlier? You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken. So ask yourself tough questions: What barriers might your employees be facing and who is disproportionately impacted? This can range from food or housing insecurity to transportation issues to caregiving challenges. What can you do to improve access to the resources they need, both at home and at work?
2. Recognizing Biases
Ready for another tough question? Here’s a big one: What subconscious bias might your employees be facing in the workplace? Whether we know it or not, everyone suffers from some form of bias. Our subconscious introduces bias in ways we may never know, but it’s important that we try. This is especially important in a professional setting, as employers are often the bridge between individuals and access to healthcare.
Perform a deep-dive into your company’s culture, policies, and relationships with a critical eye. Learning how to recognize conscious and subconscious bias can help avoid unintentional exclusion and lead to more inclusive policies.
This one may seem obvious, but it’s so important that we have to include it. It also goes hand-in-hand with recognizing biases, as one directly influences the other. It’s important to cultivate a culture of respect within an organization and to be on the lookout for those who don’t fit in with that culture. This isn’t limited to employees — all stakeholders must respect the differences between the groups within your company. A collaborative approach is the only way to enact real, lasting change. This means initiating dedicated programs for addressing current disparities and involving the beneficiaries of such programs.
Nothing provides more information than good old fashioned evaluation. This is especially important after you’ve implemented policies to improve health equity within your organization. Set up a constant system of monitoring to assess and evaluate the progress of health equity policies. You need to know whether new systems have the desired effect, and make changes if they don’t. Changes must be proposed as part of the evaluation process to maximize the effectiveness of health equity campaigns.
Businesses shouldn’t be alone in helping communities achieve health equity, and they can lean on others for help. This includes employees, but friends and family as well. Encourage people to volunteer their gifts, time, and talents to improve the state of health equity within communities. A common corporate example is employers offering to pay for relevant courses or certifications. This gives employees the resources they need to gain additional training in their field and build upon their professional skills. A community-based example could be a healthcare professional working at a free clinic to provide the underserved with the treatment they need.
Partner with Hinge Health
Health equity is a multifaceted problem that continues to plague the American healthcare system, as well as the American people. People suffering from health conditions aren’t at their best, which can affect their ability to earn an income. As an employer, you can support your team with the help of Hinge Health.
At Hinge Health, we work to improve health equity for companies across the nation by providing access to healthcare services from home. Our online MSK and physical therapy programs are tailored to fit around your employees’ schedules and lifestyles. In fact, 4 in 5 employers have chosen our end-to-end digital MSK clinic to support their employees.
Hinge Health offers your team the most thorough and effective MSK solution available with advanced sensor technology, computer vision, and a full clinical care team. Partnering with Hinge Health can help you reduce medical spend, drive enrollment, and improve employee satisfaction by offering comprehensive healthcare services.
At Hinge Health, we go beyond physical therapy. Join the digital musculoskeletal (MSK) clinic that’s revolutionizing the way chronic pain is treated. To learn more about how you can support your teams, contact Hinge Health today.