Survival of the fittest is a leading phenomenon in the natural world. But what does it mean when applied to healthcare? In short, healthcare disparities refer to the differences in the quality of care that people receive based on their social status. It can include factors like race, ethnicity, gender, income level, and education.
As unfair as it sounds, people with less money often receive lower-quality healthcare. They may have to wait longer for medical appointments, be seen by less experienced doctors, and have a harder time affording prescriptions. It can lead to poorer health outcomes overall.
So what does this have to do with nurses? Nurses are the frontline workers and advocates of patient care. They’re the ones who see firsthand how social factors affect health outcomes and service distribution. They’re also in a unique position to do something about it. Let’s unfold some of the ways nurses can promote health equity.
Why is Health Equity Important?
Before moving forward, we must understand the significance of health equity in healthcare. When we talk about promoting health equity, we primarily refer to providing quality care for all patients, regardless of their social status.
We know that social factors like poverty can lead to poorer health outcomes. But did you know that poor health can also lead to poverty? It’s a vicious cycle that can be strenuous to break out of or eradicate. That’s why health equity is significant. It gives everyone a fair chance at a healthy life.
How can Nurses Promote Health Equity?
Nowadays, hospitals and other healthcare organizations are actively hiring professionals with higher academic credentials and skillsets. Since advanced degrees prepare them to take over leadership positions, they’re well-prepared to tackle health disparities and inequities. For instance, family nurse practitioners having an MSN FNP degree help draft equitable and impartial healthcare policies and treatments for diverse patients irrespective of their background.
As a nurse, you can actively participate and help your patients get optimal care. Let’s discuss how:
Advocate for Your Patients
Your patients lean on you to be their voice. When you advocate for them, you ensure that they get the best possible care. It means speaking up when you see something that isn’t right and working to find a solution. Some patients may be unable to speak up for themselves. That’s when nurses need to step in and be their advocates.
The notion of social justice refers to the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunities, and advantages in society. Minorities in the United States are experiencing discrimination daily and at an accelerated rate compared to non-minorities. Many people, particularly chronically ill, underprivileged, disabled, LGBTQQ2+, and working poor, fall outside this crucial band. Nurses must fight for equal access to essential care to balance these gaps in healthcare.
Educate Your Patients
Education is undeniably one of the most powerful tools to promote health equity. When you educate your patients, you’re giving them the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their health. You’re also empowering them to take control of their health.
There are a lot of factors that can affect a person’s health. But not everyone has the same level of knowledge about these factors. That’s why it’s incredibly important to educate your patients. You can help them understand how social factors can affect their health and what they can do to improve their health outcomes.
Nurses can’t do it alone. You need to partner with other organizations to promote health equity. There are a lot of community organizations that are working to improve the health of their communities. You can partner with these organizations to help them achieve their goals. You can make an enormous impact and reach more people by working together.
Some community organizations you can partner with include food banks, housing organizations, and transportation services. These organizations can help improve access to healthcare for all patients.
Culturally Competent Care
A healthcare facility can have all the resources in the world. Still, if their staff isn’t culturally competent, they’re not going to be able to provide quality care for their patients. Cultural competence is the ability to comprehend, communicate with, and provide care to people from different cultures. It’s important to note that not all cultures have the same values and beliefs regarding health. That’s why it’s imperative to be culturally competent.
Practicing empathy, learning about different cultures, and being open to new ideas are essential pillars of being culturally competent. As a nurse, you must understand your patients’ social and cultural backgrounds. Only then can you provide them with the best possible care.
Addressing Multiple Needs in Different Settings
Nurses need to be able to maneuver the needs of their patients in different settings. Some patients may need more support than others. Customized care plans are important for meeting the needs of all patients.
No two patients are alike. Because numerous elements impact individual and population well-being, a multidisciplinary, multisectoral strategy is required to improve health and reduce inequity. Focusing on one SDOH (Social Determinants of Health) may improve one aspect of health, such as food insecurity. But holistic approaches that address multiple complex needs of people, families, and communities are frequently needed.
One major chunk of the responsibility for promoting health equity lies with those who make and pass policies. Laws, regulations, and other policy decisions can significantly impact people’s health. As a nurse, you can’t do much about policymaking directly. But you can educate yourselves and others about the policies that affect health.
To improve the quality of care and practice equality, nurses can highlight the importance of including those from all walks of life. By promoting health equity, nurses are making a stand to break down the barriers preventing people from getting the care they need.
We all understand how nurses serve as educators, advocates, and caregivers in the healthcare system. However, nurses must also encourage patients to become more involved in their care. When patients are more engaged in their care, they’re more likely to take better care of themselves. They’re also more likely to follow their treatment plans and make healthier choices.
Moreover, calling young students and internees to volunteer in health awareness programs or mobile medical units can be a great way to instill the significance of health equity.
Unarguably, a country may not reach its full potential until everyone can live their best possible life regardless of race, background, or income level. The critical duty of nurses has always been to assist individuals in achieving their healthiest lifestyle.
However, nurses will continue to confront significant challenges in delivering competent care and advocating for health equity without a solid education, flexible working conditions, and freedom to care for patients. So, go out there and be the change that you want to see in the world.