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Understanding Health Equity and the Connection to Social Determinants of Health

Thu, Oct 19, 2023  -  Comments (0)  -   Posted by The Center for Health Affairs

The terms “health equity,” “social determinants of health” and “health disparities” frequently are used when describing the differences in health and healthcare outcomes experienced by different populations and communities. But what do these terms mean and how can the understanding of each lead to better health for every citizen?


What is Health Equity?

Achieved when a person can meet their full potential for health and well-being regardless of who they are or where they live, health equity is influenced by a variety of factors often referred to as the social determinants of health (SDoH). Not everyone has a fair opportunity to attain their highest level of health, and equity cannot be achieved by simply providing the same healthcare resources equally to every individual, as these factors affect each person in a unique way.


The Social Determinants of Health

Comprised of social, environmental, economic and political factors, SDoH are non-medical. These include conditions in which people are born, live, work and play as well as the systems shaping the conditions of daily life. They include access to healthy food, employment, transportation, education, green spaces, a safe and clean environment, and safe housing.


Achieving health equity and eliminating preventable health disparities requires addressing these SDoH, including ongoing historical and contemporary injustices, economic and social struggles, and other obstacles to health and healthcare.


What are Health Disparities?

Preventable inequalities that adversely affect certain populations, health disparities often impact those who have lower incomes, who live in underserved geographic locations, or those in gender, racial or ethnic minority groups.


An example of health inequality can be seen in the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on different racial and ethnic groups. According to a 2020 CNN report, over the first eight months of the pandemic, Black, Hispanic and Native Americans were four times more likely to be hospitalized with complications from COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white Americans. Some contributing factors include previous health issues, essential worker employment and lack of health insurance.


Addressing Health Equity

What can be done to eliminate health disparities and achieve health equity? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends addressing disparities by ensuring everyone can maintain and manage physical and mental health, which requires easy access to information, affordable testing, and medical and behavioral healthcare.


But it doesn't end there. From the national level down to local municipalities, there needs to be a societal effort to tackle issues preventing individuals from achieving their best health. This means addressing historical and contemporary economic, social and other obstacles and injustices.


Employers, healthcare systems and providers, faith-based organizations, public health agencies and many others are important participants in work to eliminate health disparities. Policymakers have potential to bring about change through collaboration with their communities to develop policies, programs, and systems based on a health equity framework and community needs. 


The SDoH Innovation Hub

Addressing social determinants of health to achieve health equity requires a clear picture of the issue, including the complex contributing factors and proven interventions and solutions. This, in turn, requires accurate and insightful data.


Beginning in 2022, The Center for Health Affairs and Amazon Web Services (AWS) began work to establish the Social Determinants of Health Innovation Hub, with the objective to address structural racism and poverty that lead to health disparities and inequity.


The SDoH Innovation Hub allows for the rapid analysis of heterogenous data from hundreds of local partner organizations using AWS’ compute, storage, machine learning, and other services to identify patterns and indicators that will better inform health action and policies. The insights will be used by a consortium of public, private and nonprofit organizations to develop interventions that focus on underserved neighborhoods and their residents.


Again, achieving health equity is not an easy accomplishment. But, as more organizations, policymakers, and healthcare and community leaders strive for a world in which healthcare is centered around health equity, we move closer to a reality in which every citizen has an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential in all aspects of health and well-being.


Learn more about the SDoH Innovation Hub here.


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