Reasons Behind the Challenges in Healthcare Access
Updated: Jun 13
By Shrividya Regadamilli, Hathaway Brown School, Shaker Heights, Ohio, USA
The lack of accessibility to quality healthcare can be detrimental to the well-being of a country. Factors such as affordability, race, gender, and area of residence all affect healthcare accessibility. Affordability affects an individual’s tendency to forgo medically recommended care. Gender biases present a need for thorough studies of medical conditions. Racial stereotypes cause numerous obstacles to providing adequate healthcare. Lastly, varying areas of residence require evenly populated medical facilities. Through qualitative and quantitative observations, surveys and statistics further demonstrate a growing need for awareness of this issue in the healthcare realm. With the goal of promoting strategies to increase access to healthcare, the Universal Health Coverage Plan put in place by the World Health Organization enumerates a list of goals and targets for reaching a globally accessible healthcare system.
No one should have to choose between putting food on the table or visiting the doctor for a medical concern. Unfortunately, each year, millions of people globally face poverty caused by their healthcare expenses. At times, universal healthcare accessibility poses serious challenges, but these can be identified and addressed with a proper understanding of a few core reasons: affordability, gender, race, and area of residence.
The first criterion in analyzing healthcare accessibility is affordability, which is a crucial factor in determining whether the average adult decides to pursue or forgo healthcare. The soaring costs of quality healthcare are a leading cause of poverty, evident from numerous surveys and statistics. In particular, evidence shows that the healthcare costs for the average household of four with an “employer-sponsored” insurance plan surpassed $28,000 in 2020. “Over the next decade, premiums will continue to outpace wages,” according to the Congressional Budget Office (Crowley et al., 2020). One survey shows that, due to financial burden, a third of adults in the United States skipped medically recommended healthcare (Osborn, 2016). Evidently, self-sought healthcare is a financial burden on much of the average population. In addition, since many of the country’s hospitals are businesses, profits are the driving factor. Thus, quality is sacrificed when a hospital’s financial stability is at risk. In the case of a universal healthcare plan, healthcare providers can focus solely on quality since hospitals are supported by funds that are adequate to provide quality care for all patients regardless of their socioeconomic status (El-Sayed & Johnson, 2021). It is essential to invest in public health to develop a better healthcare plan for the United States as it relieves the financial stress on individuals while allowing for equal and quality healthcare.
The second category in an analysis of healthcare accessibility, gender, is often the cause for indirect restriction of healthcare. Some studies, such as the one published by the journal Nature Communications, have started taking note of the discrepancies between diagnosis and treatment of different genders. One study, conducted in Denmark, shows that over seven hundred diseases were diagnosed earlier in men than they were diagnosed in women, illustrating how delayed diagnosis in women is contributing to the gender discrepancies in healthcare accessibility (Alcalde-Rubio, 2020). Several studies on possible ways of reducing these gender biases showed that practical approaches, such as having a team of all female healthcare workers, were more successful than merely tightening guidelines or reducing differences between technical procedures. These studies prove that implementations should be based on factors such as context and targeted population amongst the hospital and its employees, and frequent monitoring after establishing solutions is necessary (Alcalde-Rubio, 2020). Consequently, these sources illustrate that a lack of healthcare and knowledge of medical procedures for different genders can be detrimental to their accessibility to healthcare.
In addition to affordability and gender, one's race can impact the quality of healthcare they are provided with. Statistics from a study conducted in 2012 showed that areas with primarily Black residents were over 50% more likely to experience an inadequate supply of primary care physicians (Rees, 2020). There is unequal distribution and, consequently, unequal accessibility of healthcare services across different races and ethnicities. However, the prejudice that exists within an individual’s mind may also be a cause of inaccessible healthcare. For instance, a study conducted in 2016 found that at least 73% of participants in a survey of White medical students believed in at least one incorrect analysis of racial differences (Rees, 2020). Numerous surveys and statistics illustrate how race can affect healthcare accessibility due to inadequate resources and personal bias.
In analyzing one’s accessibility to healthcare, an additional category is place of residence. Economically disadvantaged neighborhoods with residents that share similar socioeconomic status, such as low income, education quality, and employment rates often lack accessibility to healthcare facilities. For instance, economically disadvantaged backgrounds correlate with increased mortality, asthma, heart disease, and premature births (Silva, 2006). Studies also show that hospitals are more likely to shut down in disadvantaged communities compared to wealthier communities. This results in unequal distribution of healthcare facilities and confirms that facilities facing barriers such as low funding and employment are often located in disadvantaged areas (Silva, 2006). A deeper analysis shows that any health issues that pertain to a specific neighborhood may not be properly addressed due to a doctor’s lack of understanding of patients’ backgrounds (Silva, 2006). Understanding patients’ geographic backgrounds should be emphasized among doctors as it is a crucial step in optimizing healthcare facilities to one’s own needs.
Ultimately, awareness of healthcare accessibility can be built with an understanding of the Universal Health Coverage Plan put in place by the World Health Organization. A universal healthcare system is where everyone receives medical assistance regardless of their socioeconomic status (World Health Organization [WHO], 2021). However, there are many issues hindering this achievement, including the need for more than 18,000,000 healthcare employees in the next decade to balance the supply and demand for healthcare in various countries (WHO, 2021). Although difficulties exist, knowledge and support of this Universal Health Coverage Plan can be beneficial in creating a system of globally accessible healthcare.
Crowley, R., Daniel, H., Cooney, T. G., & Engel, L. S. (2020, January 21). Envisioning a Better U.S. Health Care System for All: Coverage and Cost of Care. Annals of Internal Medicine. PubMed. https://doi.org/10.7326/M19-2415
Johnson, M., & El-Sayed, A. (2021, February 11). Medicare for all would have Ensured the US had a Better Pandemic. ProQuest. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2585578487?accountid=6857
Osborn, R., Squires, D., Doty, M. M., Sarnak, D. O., & Schneider, E. C. (2016, November 16). In New Survey of 11 Countries, U.S. Adults Still Struggle with Access to and Affordability of Health Care. Commonwealth Fund. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/journal-article/2016/nov/new-survey-11-countries-us-adults-still-struggle-access-and
Rees, M. (2020, September 16). Racism in healthcare: Statistics and examples. Medical News Today. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/racism-in-healthcare
Silva, A. (2006, November 1). Where You Live Matters to Your Health | Journal of Ethics | American Medical Association. AMA Journal of Ethics. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/where-you-live-matters-your-health/2006-11
World Health Organization. (2021, April 1). Universal health coverage (UHC). WHO | World Health Organization. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/universal-health-coverage-(uhc)
Thumbnail Source: Furman, J. (2020, April 21). Green Earth day, Save the world and Global healthcare concept. Stethoscope wrapped around globe on white background. flickr. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/91261194@N06/49824807871