It will be years before we get the full picture of the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on American society, but a few things are already clear. The pandemic revealed what public health experts have been talking about for years: our healthcare system does a good job in delivering acute care to everyone, but when it comes to long-term disease management, there are some troubling disparities in the way different populations are served.
This health disparity can easily be seen in a variety of measures, including:
Health literacy is low among Hispanic adults, who have the lowest health literacy in the country, followed by Black, indigenous Americans, and Americans over the age of 65.
About a third of American adults report they will not take a COVID-19 vaccine, with numbers higher among Black people and minorities.
Black women have the highest rate of premature births and infant mortality in the country, along with indigenous women.
Black men are more than twice as likely as white men to die of stroke, and Black Americans overall are 30 percent more likely to die of heart disease than white Americans.
The obesity rate among Black women is 56 percent, versus 32.4 percent for white women. Similarly, the obesity rate for Black men is 37 percent, versus 32.8 percent for white men.
This small sample is only the tip of the iceberg—minorities lag behind in a huge range of health measures. In recent years, social scientists have spent a lot of time considering the social determinants of health that contribute to this country’s stubborn health disparities, including income, education, cultural attitudes, and other factors. We’ve made some progress to even things out, but there is still a long way to go—and this is where patient education can play a vital role.
Effective patient education needs to be offered in a way that patients can understand it and take action. This means it needs to be culturally appropriate, in a language the patient can understand, and presented at the appropriate literacy level even if that means using pictographs and infographics to communicate simple concepts. In video education, videos should feature actors or real patients that reflect the local community. Additionally, there are some simple steps healthcare providers can make that have been shown to work, like empowering community health workers to provide health information. These workers tend to be more connected to local communities and better understand how to communicate.
Ultimately, the problem of health disparity isn’t an isolated problem that only affects some communities. When large groups of the population are suffering from more serious disease, it puts stress on the whole system and makes healthcare more expensive for everyone. By ensuring your patient education can reach all of your populations, you can help us all take one more step toward a more effective, more equal, and fairer healthcare system.
The Wellness Network offers a comprehensive offering of video and print education, designed to engage cross culturally and to meet the needs of those with low literacy levels. We employ a variety of styles, with a focus on patient stories that improve relatability. Additionally, our highly graphic styles of checklists, activation, and health quizzes quickly and easily illustrate key learning objectives to inspire action or impart necessary knowledge to improve outcomes. These resources are available on a variety of platforms and integrated into clinical workflow, making it easy for clinicians to use and patients to access to ensure the right information is being presented at the right time.
 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on Community-Based Solutions to Promote Health Equity in the United States; Baciu A, Negussie Y, Geller A, et al., editors. Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Jan 11. 2, The State of Health Disparities in the United States. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425844/
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