Health inequities are pervasive in communities nationwide, resulting in differences in health status or distribution of health services and often leading to poorer health outcomes and quality of life.
While these injustices obviously have an effect year-round, targeted awareness months like National Minority Health Month (NMHM) draw attention to these issues and help amplify the efforts at work to resolve them.
Today, let’s look at National Minority Health Month and what its themes mean for minority health concerns.
A month of focused awareness for minority health
April is National Minority Health Month, a month dedicated to a two-fold mission:
- Raise awareness about health disparities that affect people from racial and ethnic minority groups
- Encourage action through education, early detection, and control of complications
This year, the specific focus of National Minority Health Month is “Give Your Community a Boost!”, a directive meant to reduce vaccine hesitancy and inspire communities of color to get their COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, with the goal of ending a pandemic that has disproportionately affected minority communities.
This encouragement comes at a critical time of vaccine and booster approvals. As of March 29, 2022, the FDA and CDC updated regulations and recommendations to allow “certain immunocompromised individuals and people over the age of 50 who received an initial booster dose at least 4 months ago to be eligible for another mRNA booster to increase their protection against severe disease from COVID-19.”
Concerns over health outcomes for marginalized communities are well founded — something Royal Tuthill, General Manager of Ambulatory and Population Health here at Get Well, recently shared with HLTH.
It’s been well documented that COVID-19 has led to an increase in racial and ethnic health disparities. During the pandemic, 79% of Black patients were hospitalized for COVID-19 vs. 19% of white patients. And only 19% of eligible patients completed an annual wellness visit in 2019, with a 10-11 point lower annual wellness visit utilization for Black and Hispanic populations.
By highlighting the need for people from all walks of life to play a role in this public health emergency, National Minority Health Month centers those who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to nationwide health inequities.
Minority health inequities are broader than COVID-19
Of course, health disparities among these communities extend beyond just the bounds of the COVID-19 pandemic or even general healthcare.
In the month of April, which also plays host to Black Maternal Health Week, it is especially important to recognize inequities faced by Black birthing parents. Maternal health outcomes in particular show a striking disparity along racial and ethnic lines:
- The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any high-resource country, and it’s rising
- Black women are 3x more likely to die in childbirth than white women
- Black babies have 14.1% higher rates of low birth weight and infant mortality than other races/ethnicities
Health inequities and care disparities are amplified by social determinants of health (SDOH).
Examples of SDOH include:
- Safe housing, transportation, and neighborhoods
- Racism, discrimination, and violence
- Education, job opportunities, and income
- Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities
- Polluted air and water
- Language and literacy skills
These factors often come together to contribute to poorer outcomes for minority communities, something NMHM both highlights and addresses.
Using technology to deliver healthcare to those in need
As mentioned, concerns like vaccine hesitancy and historical mistrust of care within underserved communities have contributed to health inequities. But technology can innovate here, in all the right ways:
- Some technology, like virtual care navigation, can draw people from within their own local communities to serve as guides to others through the healthcare process, reducing concern and mistrust and allowing people to connect with the care they need.
- Other technology, like a digital care platform delivered seamlessly through a patient’s phone, might connect patients with personalized resources at a language and local level that addresses their specific needs.
In one example of a digital care platform being used for health equity, M Health Fairview rapidly deployed GetWell Loop as part of its COVID-19 response. This enabled M Health Fairview to connect local Somali patients with Somali-speaking medical volunteers, lowering language barriers and ensuring healthcare could be offered to every person in need of it.
Digital health technology can also help expand access in a wide range of healthcare organizations through the inpatient setting, democratizing access to patient education, entertainment, and service requests for all who need it. Encouraging people to connect with these things via their own mobile devices lowers barriers, since 85% of American adults now own a smartphone and will likely have it in their pocket upon arrival to a hospital.
When working to reduce inequities, there are many tools available. Today’s innovative technologies can help address concerns that impact minority health, whether those are inpatient, ambulatory, or occurring across a patient’s whole health journey.
The bottom line
Everyone is impacted by health, but all people are not impacted equally. By spotlighting the communities whose health is often diminished by health inequities, targeted months like National Minority Health Month bring awareness to concerns that all healthcare organizations and providers should be keeping in mind.
And, at a time of deep-seated health inequities, digital health technologies serve as a welcome addition to the healthcare toolkit. By helping to digitally assist patients with resources, education, and a supportive presence, the clinical use of tools like virtual care navigation or a digital care platform help lift more rote tasks off of providers and leave them to the role they fill best: caring for patients.