How Can a Private Practice Healthcare Clinic Help Achieve Health Equity?

Health equity means that patients’ social, economic, or cultural demographics do not determine their ability to access quality healthcare. While public clinics have made strides toward improving the accessibility of care, many private healthcare practices have overlooked simple ways to do their part in addressing this critical problem.

What is health equity?

The American Public Health Association defines health equity as “everyone having an equal opportunity to attain their highest level of health.”

The equitable delivery of healthcare ensures that all patients receive tailored, personal care that addresses all their health concerns. More importantly, it makes certain that providers are treating their patients equally and acknowledging that there are outside (i.e. social, environmental, economic) factors that may affect their health.

Health inequity permeates public and private practices.

Health inequity occurs when there are unfair advantages or disadvantages among patients receiving care. These disparities include the cost of care, the types of insurance plans a practice accepts, transportation to and the location of a practice’s office, medical professionals’ language proficiencies, and cultural competencies – and they create barriers that prevent individuals from achieving their highest level of health. Importantly, these health inequities aren’t confined to public healthcare clinics; they also pervade private practices. While inequities at public clinics might have a more significant overall impact on public health because of the larger patient populations served, private practices are also heavy contributors to this problem.

For example: consider the transportation barriers that might exacerbate these disparities. According to the CDC, “38.9% of Hispanic/Latinos, 55.2% of African Americans, and 29.6% of Asian Americans live in households with one vehicle or less compared to 24.5% of Whites”.[1] This means that non-White individuals can benefit more from having healthcare providers closer to their homes.  The unavailability of providers in their community may prevent them from accessing needed care.

What can I do as a private practice?

Private practice healthcare clinics can take to reduce the amount of health inequity that exists. To consider how your practice might equalize the public’s access to care, start by evaluating the barriers most likely faced by your prospective patients.

Ease transportation barriers to reduce the burden of getting to visits.

As mentioned above, transportation is a major barrier to receiving appropriate care from licensed providers. To alleviate this barrier, a practice may opt to offer in-home visits to patients who cannot safely or efficiently travel to the provider’s office. A practice might alternatively consider offering or subsidizing transportation services costs for patients in far-away areas, ensuring that they can make it to their appointments. To reduce the burden of transportation challenges on your patients, you might also consider implementing a more flexible cancellation policy. Or, invite your patients with unpredictable transportation options to attend “drop-in” community hours at your practice, where patients will receive mini-visits on a first-come, first-served basis. Finally, some transportation challenges can be alleviated by integrating telemedicine into your treatment plans.

Offer holistic care that emphasizes your patient’s personhood.

Another step private practices can take to achieve health equity is to provide a holistic approach to their care. This means seeing your patients as more than just another patient. Instead, treat them as a person who experiences disadvantages and advantages due to the social determinants of health.

In practice, what does this look like? In recognition of potential educational inequalities among your patients, it’s crucial to explain a patient’s diagnoses or treatment plan in plain and understandable language. It’s vital that your patient understands what you are telling them and recommending that they do.  Inherent in this is the need to speak in a language that your patient understands. When language barriers exist, use professional medical translation services (not family members!). Pay close attention to your patient’s body language to identify potential sources of misunderstanding or anxiety, and revisit those points to ensure comprehension.

Holistic care also means that your expected outcomes or health maintenance tasks are relative to what your patient deems to be realistic. For example, a dietitian tells a low-income patient that s/he needs to incorporate more organic foods into their diet. However, it’s likely unrealistic unless the dietitian also provides accessible ways for that patient to receive organic foods at prices that reasonable relative to the patient’s financial abilities. For a private practice, this might include partnering with a service like Imperfect Produce (a favorite of Jackson LLP!) to ensure that even patients who live in food deserts can access fresh produce.

These are just a few of the ways to work with patients at an interpersonal level to achieve health equity.

Private healthcare: a luxury item?

There’s a misconception among some patients that private healthcare is for the wealthy and privileged, and public healthcare serves the poor. However, this is not true and not an excuse for private practices to shirk their duty to improve the accessibility of healthcare. Private practices have a substantial impact on healthcare; there are abundant opportunities to positively transform the delivery of health services to reduce disparities. Through practicing these initiatives and partnering with some community-based clinics and programs, private practices can join in the fight to achieve health equity throughout the country.

Take the next step.

If you’re still unsure about how your practice can better serve the needs of your community, consider implementing more patient-centered registration forms, or a charity care program, or telehealth offerings. Even your HIPAA manual and employee handbook can transform your practice into a more community- and patient-oriented environment. Do you emphasize cultural sensitivity and nondiscrimination education for your employees? Do you implement equal opportunity employment practices that encourage the hiring of a diverse workforce? For more ideas, schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys by calling (312) 985-6484 or clicking the button below.

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[1] Brennan Ramirez LK, Baker EA, Metzler M. Promoting Health Equity: A Resource to Help Communities Address Social Determinants of Health. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2008.

Post written by Ezinna Adiele & Erin Jackson