Improving Equity: Structural Issues and Access to Health Care Services
Lack of access to affordable, consistent care contributes to health disparities for individuals and communities. Issues of access include a shortage of health care providers or services in some communities, social needs that make it difficult for individuals to stay healthy or recover from illness, and financial barriers resulting from being uninsured or underinsured. To eliminate disparities and improve population health, we need multipronged strategies that increase the availability and affordability of health and health care services for all individuals and tackle the more fundamental factors that impact health outside the walls of the delivery system.
Behavioral Health: Integrating and Improving Care and Support Services
The value of integrating physical and behavioral health is increasingly acknowledged and being acted upon in various parts of the United States. However, integration is complex, calling for a cultural change of inpatient, community-based, and health plan perspectives, as well as an evolution of the workforce to accommodate our growing understanding of how to support individuals and communities to improve outcomes. In addition, true community collaborative partnerships are essential to provide supportive environments to those living with mental health issues or substance use disorders.
Eradicating Disparities in Maternal and Infant Health
Disparities in both maternal and infant mortality rates have persisted across the U.S., particularly for women of color and their babies. Solutions include implementing screening and early clinical intervention for complications, stratifying data to examine disparities, improving health literacy, proactively engaging mothers and families, and partnering with community stakeholders. In addition, we need better strategies to tackle the root causes of poor maternal and infant health outcomes, including structural racism and unconscious bias.
Addressing Issues of Aging and Chronic or Complex Disease
While Americans in general are living longer, significant differences in life expectancy and quality of life remain, based on a person’s race, ethnicity, gender and zip code. As rates of chronic disease continue to increase, health care organizations, health plans and community partners are working together to implement new care models focused on chronic illness, including diabetes, heart failure, asthma and COPD. Together partners are testing new methods for primary, secondary and tertiary intervention, including how to reach individuals living in historically underserved communities and regions, and addressing social and structural factors that cause some populations to be more vulnerable to the development and progression of chronic disease.
Moving from Collaboration to Alignment to Drive Health Equity
True structural change is necessary to drive health equity. Hospitals and health systems have long partnered with public health organizations, community service providers and health plans on initiatives to improve the quality of care and the health status of their communities, including the health status of at-risk populations. While much has been achieved by collaborating on specific initiatives, such as periodic community health assessments or focused programming, tackling structural determinants of health to drive health equity requires sustained alignment of all partners, as well as new definitions and measures of quality. This alignment calls for cross-sector, shared strategic vision and governance, supported by integration of data and resources, and meaningful and consistent engagement of community members at all stages.
Other Emerging Topics
Connecting care and community to advance health equity touches upon myriad topics and corresponding challenges. Communities are working together to address the differential impact of climate change, consider the unique needs of immigrant populations and focus on reducing and preventing acts of violence. Innovative models to develop and test new measures of health and outcomes at the community and population levels (including return on investment) are a key focus for understanding success. Choose this content area if your innovative idea, project or collaboration is relevant to the conference theme but does not fall into one of the above, specified content areas.