A recent article published in the Akron Beacon Journal surveyed the true cost of health inequity. Health inequity – which is defined as disparities in health that are a result of systemic, avoidable and unjust social and economic policies and practices – creates barriers to opportunity. These health disparities are the differences in health status among distinct segments of the population, including differences that occur by gender, race or ethnicity, education or income, disability or living in various geographic localities. Cultural competency involves ensuring that all healthcare providers can function effectively in a culturally diverse setting; in short, it involves understanding and respecting cultural differences. In addition to recognizing the disparities in health status between White Americans and minority groups, society must recognize differences within groups as well. Ethnic and racial minority communities include diverse groups with diverse histories, languages, cultures, religions, beliefs and traditions. This diversity is reflected in the health care minorities receive, and the experiences they have with the healthcare industry. Without understanding and incorporating these differences, health care cannot be provided in a culturally competent manner. In the end, the lack of culturally competent services being provided (for both direct and indirect medical services) costs the healthcare system on average a staggering 1.24 trillion – a figure which is greater than the entire GDP of India. With this growing cost, how can we afford not to promote health equity?
African Americans represent 12% of the population but based on national statistics from the Office of Minority Health, we know that African Americans remain statistically less likely to access proper mental health services than other racial groups and are far less likely to attend and participate in outpatient services. Hispanics, another disenfranchised group, and African Americans receive less adequate mental health care than White Americans. In fact, sad but true, 25 percent of African American youth are exposed to enough violence to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). African Americans account for more than 25 percent of mental health needs in this nation. Only true health equity includes consistent quality and effective primary health, behavioral health and overall healthcare services in general.
A key challenge has been to get administrations to establish clear standards for culturally competent health care. Despite volumes of literature suggesting the importance of race, ethnicity and culture in health, health care and treatment, there is relatively little information available on the racial, ethnic and biological differences that affect the manifestations of certain illnesses and their treatments. Billions of dollars are spent each year on health research. However, the health condition of minorities will continue to suffer until they are included in all types of health research. Efforts to combat the cost of health inequity and close the gap must be pursued on multiple levels including effective training and education of healthcare providers.