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Health Care Disparities and Disparities in Health Discussion
Our society values equality as a right for all of our citizens. Yet, the reality is that disparities exist, especially in health care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2020) defines health disparity as “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantages.” Health disparities adversely affect specific groups or populations who systematically experience obstacles to health care based on several factors or variables.
Members of disadvantaged populations are known to have poorer health outcomes as compared to more advantaged populations. Lack of health insurance, poor neighborhoods without quality health care institutions, lack of access to health care services, and inadequate health literacy contribute to the disparity. Social workers can play an instrumental role in closing these gaps through advocacy, education, policy making, and program development aimed at disadvantaged groups.
Disparities in health care access for underserved populations in the United States is well-documented. Most often attempts to explain disparities in access to health care faced by these vulnerable populations focus on individual-level factors such as socio-demographics. In addition, the health care delivery system in the United States is disease-centered. An individual who is ill seeks out the advice and expertise of a physician. In turn, the physician diagnoses the condition and offers a standard treatment to cure it. Over time there has been a desire to make medicine more patient-centered, with the focus of treatment involving attention not only on the disease but also on the person with the disease. Public health offers yet another perspective for addressing illness and promoting positive health outcomes: through education, health promotion, and disease prevention, public health takes a population-centered approach to improve health and well-being.
Medical social workers are especially well-equipped to help health care groups implement more universal approaches. Practicing medical social workers require knowledge and skills to help them recognize and address health disparities and health inequalities related to access to care and provision of health services.
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