Center for Family Health column: How health disparities affect health


By: Dr. Rose Johnson and Nate Nimtz

JACKSON, MI – Health disparities exist when a group of people within a community have health outcomes that are better or worse than other populations.

These disparities can be seen in nearly every aspect of health, including the quality of health care received, as well as having access to and utilization of health care.

Research suggests that approximately 80% of a person’s health is attributed to non-medical factors often referred to as social determinants of health. Patients who have limited access to resources, such as food and housing, or experience financial struggles or lack social support may struggle to manage and prioritize their health needs.

This can result in poor health outcomes. Additionally, a patient’s past experiences with the health care system can impact their trust and comfort levels in seeking care in the future, which only further impacts poor outcomes.

To address disparate outcomes, health care organizations are adopting a multitude of practices and approaches that promote improved access to care for all.

For example, health care providers can practice in a way that makes all feel welcome. As providers, we can provide judgement-free, people-centered approaches in our interactions with every patient we treat.

We can recognize that everyone’s life and health experiences are different. By understanding this, we can meet patients where they are and better support them in their health care journey.

As such, many health-care environments have shifted to a team-based approach to care, which includes additional team support like nurses, community health workers and social workers.

These individuals help build relationships with the patient to assist the provider in identifying and helping to bridge the gaps in care the patient may be contending with. Understanding and eliminating these gaps further helps patients achieve optimal health. Additionally, the patient is a partner in this process and is always at the center of the care team.

When health care systems embrace this patient centered approach and work collaboratively as a team it becomes easier to effectively reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for all individuals and populations. Eliminating disparities and enabling patients to make better health decisions can lead to more healthful behaviors in the future. When we all have equal opportunity to live our lives in optimal health, our communities prosper as a result.

– Dr. Rose Johnson is the chief medical officer and Nate Nimtz is the support services manager for Jackson’s Center for Family Health