Canada’s doctors can address health equity challenges for their patients, says CMA report
Health equity is created when individuals have the opportunity to achieve their full health potential. Health equity is undermined when social and economic conditions, the social determinants of health, prevent or constrain people from taking actions or making decisions that would promote health. While the majority of these determinants fall outside of the traditional health sector, the implications for health services in Canada are enormous. Most major diseases including heart disease and mental illness follow a social gradient with those in lowest socio-economic groups having the greatest burden of illness.
In a recent research report by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), physicians were asked to identify common areas of intervention for addressing health equity within practice. The most common answers in descending order were:
- Linking patients with supportive community programs and services. Examples include local walking programs and programs designed to teach patients how to cook healthy meals on a budget.
- Asking questions about a patient’s social and economic circumstances, such as “Do you (ever) have difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?
- Integrating considerations of social and economic conditions into treatment planning (i.e. cost of medications)
- Advocating for changes to support improvements in the social and economic circumstances of the community (i.e., advocating for reductions in child poverty)
- Undertaking advocacy on behalf of individual patients (i.e., letters about the need for safer housing)
- Adopting equitable practice design (i.e., flexible office hours, convenient practice location)
- Providing practical support to patients to access the federal and provincial/territorial programs for which they qualify
The CMA hopes the series of opportunities for action presented in the report will provide Canada’s doctors with a toolbox to address challenges for their patients that are often overlooked and to play a significant role in ensuring health care transformation in Canada.
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