Family health

Center for Family Health Column: How Health Disparities Affect Health

By: Dr. Rose Johnson and Nate Nimtz

JACKSON, MI – Health disparities exist when a group of people within a community have better or worse health outcomes than other populations.

These disparities can be seen in almost every aspect of health, including the quality of health care received, as well as access to and use of health care.

Research suggests that approximately 80% of a person’s health is attributed to non-medical factors often referred to as social determinants of health. Patients who have limited access to resources, such as food and housing, or who are struggling financially or who lack social support may find it difficult to manage and prioritize their health needs.

This can lead to poor health outcomes. Additionally, a patient’s past experiences with the health care system can impact their confidence and level of comfort in seeking care in the future, which only further impacts bad results.

To address disparate outcomes, healthcare organizations are adopting a multitude of practices and approaches that support greater access to care for all.

For example, health care providers can practice in a way that makes everyone feel welcome. As providers, we can offer non-judgmental, people-centered approaches in our interactions with every patient we treat.

We can recognize that everyone’s life and health experiences are different. By understanding this, we can meet patients where they are and better support them in their care journey.

As a result, many healthcare settings have shifted to a team-based approach to care, which includes additional team support like nurses, community health workers, and social workers.

These individuals help build relationships with the patient to help the provider identify and address gaps in care that the patient may be experiencing. Understanding and eliminating these shortcomings further helps patients achieve optimal health. Moreover, the patient is a partner in this process and is always at the center of the care team.

When health systems embrace this patient-centered approach and work as a team, it becomes easier to effectively reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for all individuals and populations. Eliminating disparities and empowering patients to make better health decisions can lead to healthier behaviors in the future. When we all have equal opportunity to live our lives in optimal health, our communities thrive accordingly.

– Dr. Rose Johnson is the Chief Medical Officer and Nate Nimtz is the Director of Support Services at Jackson’s Center for Family Health