Access to healthcare plays a crucial role in ensuring the well being of individuals within a society. The Constitution of the World Health Organization states,“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”. Unfortunately, the availability and quality of healthcare services are often influenced by various societal factors that can make it difficult to obtain adequate medical care. These factors include socioeconomic disparities, cultural beliefs, systemic inequalities, and policy frameworks.
It is clear that socioeconomic status is a major determinant of healthcare access. Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and low-income families are more likely to be uninsured or on Medicaid, which is often not accepted by many healthcare providers, especially private clinics and specialists. A study reported that one in eleven African Americans did not receive health services due to financial issues compared to one in twenty White Americans. As such the BIPOC community often only has poor-quality health care readily available. Low income individuals may postpone seeking medical attention due to concerns about cost. And when they do seek health care, it is more likely to be for an emergency rather than preventative care. This leads to more advanced disease progression and poorer health outcomes.
Another interconnection with healthcare access is unemployment and underemployment. Job-based insurance is a primary source of coverage for many individuals and those without stable employment often lack access to this vital resource. This is a perfect example of the cyclical relationship between socioeconomic disparities and healthcare access since those with poor health have a difficult time securing gainful employment.
Cultural beliefs and practices are also factors that make seeking health care difficult. Societies with diverse populations may hold varying beliefs about illness, treatment, and healthcare providers. These beliefs can impact individuals’ willingness to seek medical care, adhere to treatment plans, and engage with preventive services. Without proper training, clinicians may deliver medical advice without understanding how health beliefs and cultural practices influence the way that advice is received. It’s important for healthcare providers to ask about patients’ religions, cultures, and ethnic customs so that, together, they can devise treatment plans that are consistent with the patients’ values.
Language barriers can further exacerbate disparities. In multicultural societies, individuals who do not speak the dominant language may struggle to communicate effectively with healthcare providers, leading to misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment. Moreover, cultural stigmas related to certain medical conditions, such as mental health disorders, can prevent individuals from seeking help, perpetuating health disparities.
Systemic inequalities are structural differences embedded within social systems and significantly impact healthcare access. Discrimination based on such attributes as race, gender and sexual orientation can lead to disparities in healthcare outcomes. Studies have shown that low income and racial minorities are not viewed as desirable patients and receive inferior care from health care providers. Systemic racism contributes to economic opportunities and residential segregation, once again affecting access to healthcare facilities and resources in certain neighborhoods.
Government policies play a critical role in how our healthcare systems are accessed. Healthcare systems around the world vary widely. The presence or absence of universal healthcare has profound implications for how an individual can obtain medical services. Countries with comprehensive, publicly funded healthcare systems tend to exhibit more equitable access to care and financial barriers are reduced.
Universal healthcare is not a panacea. Some countries with universal healthcare have made poor policy decisions that create healthcare disparities. Poor funding allocations, inadequate healthcare infrastructure and seemingly random distribution of medical professionals are important determinants of adequate healthcare availability. Additionally, policy choices related to reproductive health, family planning and sexual education can impact marginalized communities disproportionately.
It is clear that society exerts multifaceted influences on access to healthcare. Socioeconomic disparities, cultural beliefs, systemic inequalities, and policy frameworks all play crucial roles. In order to achieve equitable healthcare access, a holistic approach is required to address these factors. Efforts need to be made to reduce these disparities and must encompass financial support, along with cultural competency training for healthcare providers, anti-discrimination measures, and policies that prioritize the most vulnerable members of society. Recognizing and addressing these factors will assure ongoing access to healthcare for all while improving the care for the most vulnerable members of society.