Front-line physicians can do much to improve health equity by taking practical steps to help their patients counter social or economic factors that act as barriers to good health, says Canada’s national doctors’ association.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), which represents over 77,000 physicians, released a paper Monday noting that social and economic conditions often determine health quality even though these areas fall outside of the traditional health sector.
Most major diseases also follow a social gradient, the paper says, with those in the lowest socio-economic groups having the greatest burden of illness.
“We know that health is linked to income and that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to suffer heart disease, mental illness, and other major diseases,” said CMA president Anna Reid.
“Physicians, other health care providers, all of us, need to do what we can to can help turn the tide toward health equity—program by program, policy by policy, patient by patient.”
The paper outlines seven steps physicians can take to address social and economic obstacles, such as offering flexible office hours and a convenient office location, or helping to link patients with supportive community programs and services.
“As physicians, we’re not the experts in housing, early childhood development, income equality, or any of the other social determinants of health, but we see every day the impact of these factors on the health of our patients,” said Reid.
“If we want our patients to truly be well, we sometimes need to look beyond their symptoms and consider the broader context of their lives.”
Physicians and leaders in the medical field across the country were interviewed for the study, and asked to identify common areas of intervention for addressing health equity within their practice. The physicians also identified barriers to achieving greater health equity such as personal feelings of powerlessness, social stigma, and a lack of time, knowledge, or programs to address complex issues.
Two years ago, the CMA launched a National Dialogue on Health Care Transformation online and at public town halls, asking Canadians what they thought of the health care system and how it should look in the future.
This year, the CMA’s National Dialogue is focused on the social determinants of health, such as income, early childhood development, housing, and access to healthy food. Online and at a series of public town hall meetings across Canada, the CMA is asking Canadians about the impact of the social determinants of health on their lives and what actions can be taken to mitigate them.
Town hall meetings have already taken place in Winnipeg and Hamilton in recent months, and will continue in Charlottetown on March 28, Calgary on April 23, and Montreal on May 8.