Advancing health equity to help deliver quality care across all populations

Whether it’s race or ethnicity, or other factors such as age, gender, sexual orientation and economic status, understanding and addressing the differences among the populations one serves can help make the health care system work better for everyone. 

In a country as rich in cultural and racial diversity as the United States, it’s essential to have a health care system that recognizes and meets the social, cultural and linguistic needs of all patients, no matter their situation.  

doctor typing on computer

By some measures, the United States ranks 46th in the world for life expectancy. However, between different racial and ethnic populations, you can find a difference of up to seven years in life expectancy. And even states with overall high levels of well-being and health can have startling gaps in health care outcomes. This has been especially stark during the COVID-19 pandemic. Blacks, non-white Hispanics, and Native Americans have seen disparities in risk of exposure to COVID-19, as well as with the severity of the disease.

To help gain a better understanding of health equity practices, OptumHealth Education and UnitedHealthcare have developed an accredited education series available to their network of health care professionals. The web-based courses are available on-demand and at no cost to providers. There are two education activities available, including:

Advancing Health Equity, which provides an overview of the fundamentals of health equity and presents ways health care professionals can apply those skills to help deliver effective care. Following this activity, participants should be able to:  

  • Identify health disparities and their causes among the U.S. population
  • Define cultural competency — meeting the social, cultural and linguistic needs of patients and meeting them where they are
  • Understand the impact of health literacy and working with patients with limited English proficiency (LEP)

Addressing Maternal Mortality looks at the impact implicit bias (the stereotypes that may unconsciously affect care) plays on maternal deaths related to pregnancy-related complications. Black, Native American and Alaska Native mothers in the United States are two to three times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women. This course has a particular focus for clinicians to understand and uncover implicit bias and the factors that may be addressed to help solve these disparities. Following this activity, participants should be able to identify the impact of implicit bias on the disproportionate number of pregnancy-related deaths among minority women, as well as factors that can be addressed to solve this issue.

These educational opportunities help highlight the importance of compassionate care; often, at the point of personal contact during care. Systemic conditions in the health care system are played out on an individual basis — whether it’s a community health worker assessing someone’s needs for food insecurity or housing, or a doctor at a hospital addressing a gap in language or cultural expectations of care. If these interactions within the health care system are rooted in a comprehensive understanding of health equity, the quality of care will be improved.

There is no single way to achieve health equity, but education is a critical component to advancing it. By giving clinicians a foundation in health equity, UnitedHealthcare hopes to impact the experience patients have with care and help people be the healthiest they can be.