By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Disparities in the quality and availability of healthcare across different population groups is a major problem in many developing and developed nations, including the United States. Several measures have been taken to try and eliminate these disparities, which impact on various minority groups including ethnic minorities, the elderly, immigrants, and people with disability, amongst others.
A report by The Commonwealth Fund outlined several steps that can be taken to narrow the gaps in healthcare provisions between different racial and ethnic groups. Some of these measures are described below:
- Data on racial and ethnic minorities should be collected on a consistent basis by healthcare providers.
- Disparities-reduction programs should be effectively evaluated.
- Minimum standards should be maintained in health services that are culturally and linguistically competent.
- Healthcare services should be expanded to ensure access to all ethnic and racial groups.
- Minority representation should be increased within the healthcare workforce.
- Offices dealing with the healthcare needs of minority groups should be established or enhanced if they already exist.
- All health system representatives should be involved in minority health improvement efforts.
Aside from these measures, other steps have been suggested based on research conducted into the cultural differences that exist within healthcare systems. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the following cultural competency techniques should also be implemented.
- Provision of interpreter services for both foreign language speakers and people with impaired hearing.
- Improved representation of minority groups with healthcare offices and clinics.
- Training for healthcare providers to help them work with minority groups and interpreters.
- Coordination of healthcare provision with traditional healers in respect of patient’s cultural beliefs and health traditions.
- The use of community health workers, to reach out to a wider population and improve access to healthcare
- The promotion of healthcare measures should be delivered in a culturally competent way to ensure that advice about diagnosis and treatment reaches different populations.
- The inclusion of family and/or community members may help obtain consent for treatment as well as improving adherence to medication regimens.
- Personal development of the healthcare personnel in terms of accommodating other religious, cultural and traditional beliefs.
- Improved organization of services in terms of where healthcare offices are located, the availability of public transport, clinic opening hours, and the patient-provider relationship, for example.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Aug 6, 2014