Structural Inequities Contribute to Minority Health Risks

Jake Newby

| 3 min read

Access to quality health care is key to maintaining physical and mental health. Some of us may take the ability to see a doctor or receive culturally congruent health care for granted. When health care is culturally congruent, the clinician or provider shares the same ethnicity and similar life experiences as the client; it’s care that is reflective of the individual seeking help.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation defines health equity as the opportunity for everyone to receive an optimal level of care. However, there are some barriers to the health care system that create health inequities. The first step in advancing health equity for all is developing a health equity lens in the delivery of care.

Discrimination and racial bias in health care

Research shows that bias appears in health care delivery in different ways, including:
  • Delayed or inappropriate treatment
  • Differences in treatment plans
  • Patient concerns being dismissed
Everyone has different biases. Health professionals can play a vital role by being aware of potential biases and helping to advance health equity.
Implicit bias is the tendency to unconsciously demonstrate a negative attitude toward a specific population – such as racial and ethnic minority groups. The following characteristics among minority patients can trigger implicit biases from health care professionals, that can then influence the care they deliver:
  • Skin color
  • First language
  • Knowledge of their own health
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Style of clothes or hygiene
  • Behavioral health condition
Health care professionals can play an important role in negating instances of bias in health care delivery. They can play a supportive role by:
  • Being thorough and thoughtful with each patient assessment.
  • Fully addressing concerns and questions from each patient.
  • Devoting personalized care to each patient.
  • Following up with patients, especially once they are discharged.
Offering individualized treatment plans that focus on each patient’s needs and goals in recovery.

Racial inequities in health care

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is committed to helping to improve the health of all Michigan residents. One way we are doing this is by taking steps to address health care disparities through our policies, programs and initiatives. From the designation of Patient-Centered Medical Homes across the state to implementing community programs that provide education and information, we are taking strategic steps to help to decrease health care disparities.
Nearly 10 years ago, we implemented a cross-functional Health Disparities Action Team to focus on creating a coordinated approach and to help ensure that we are asking the right questions in the right way to ensure that the needs of our diverse members are being met. We’re doing this by:
  • Detecting and monitoring known health and health care disparities and distinguishing what can be effectively addressed.
  • Implementing policies and programs that help to address the health and health care disparities among African American members, other minority ethnicities, members of the LGBTQ community and members of differing socio-economic levels.
  • Influencing members to make healthy lifestyle choices and engage in regular preventive screenings.
  • Partnering with stakeholders to provide education and information to members.
  • Implementing unconscious bias education at Blue Distinction Centers, which are health care facilities recognized for their expertise in delivering specialty care.
  • Strengthening the awareness of and utilization of midwifery to reduce maternal health disparities.
  • Providing info and education through member outreach campaigns.
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Photo credit: Getty Images
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association