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How Nurses Can Improve Health Equity

Nurses Impact on the Social Determinants of Health

The poorest ten percent of Americans are more likely to die nearly a decade earlier than the richest ten percent according to research from the Brookings Institute. The potential for health complications multiply as you slide down the income scale. There are higher rates of obesity amongst the impoverished, greater levels of income-related stress, and health complications related to living situation.

How Nurses Can Improve Health Equity

The ability to assess a patient’s social determinants is one of the best ways to predict the chance of developing asthma, COPD, and diabetes and determining the risk of heart attack, stroke, and a number of cancers. The fact is social determinants result in poorer Americans developing a variety of chronic illnesses and succumbing to them more often than their richer peers. As a result, we need to do more to reduce the impact that social determinants have in determining health care outcomes.

Addressing the social determinants of health has been highlighted by the U.S. government’s Healthy People 2020 initiative, National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities, and National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy as being integral to improving health for all. The health care sector’s efforts to address health disparities to date have been insufficient. Accordingly, there is a need to develop and translate appropriate medical technologies as interventions.

Social determinants of health should be mitigated by and within community clinics, hospitals, and managed care plans serving populations with high health disparities, including racial and ethnic minorities, socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals, and medically underserved patients. In medical clinics, only fifteen percent of patients are screened for associated socioeconomic needs, while existing case management programs struggle with high caseloads and unreliable information sources.

Nurses are in a prime position to holistically address social determinants root, stem, and branch. Nurses promote health in many ways, both direcct and indirect. Nursing, according to the American Nurses Association, is both the “prevention of illness and injury” and “advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations.” Few in the health care profession are as well placed to improve the health outcomes of millions of low-income Americans by helping them alleviate some of the worst effects of poverty.

Unfortunately, the biggest constraint to addressing the burden of social health needs is time. Finding the appropriate community services, developing care plans, and making referrals is a complicated, time-consuming process. While electronic health records and smart devices have made the health care professionals more connected there has not been a corresponding development between health care providers and the community-based organizations, faith-based institutions, and government benefits programs that play a pivotal role in helping the homeless, the food insecure, the addicts, and others with a multitude of needs alleviate the worst effects that poverty inflicts on health outcomes.

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Topics: healthcare delivery social determinants of health health disparities public health