In order for healthcare clinics to best serve the community, the community must feel understood and respected.
Offering excellent healthcare without also meeting the unique needs of patients within the community not only falls short of what clinics can offer patients, but also deters patients from being proactive in seeking medical care that could improve their own health as well as the health of their families and loved ones.
When healthcare clinics use community driven healthcare to create an environment that demonstrates their investment in the surrounding community, great gains can be made in patient care, trust, and overall treatment satisfaction. This, in turn, strengthens the community as a whole.
It may seem that services are the backbone of any healthcare clinic. In reality, the community is the backbone. Clinics must strive to encourage preventative care and early intervention in order to improve quality of life for all groups and community members.
Recognizing community differences such as patient location, economics, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ status, and other minority group dynamics is critical to providing quality care. This requires careful attention to what individual communities need, both medically and psychologically, so that they are confident their needs can be met by engaged and understanding healthcare providers.
Historically, minority groups have often struggled to find accessible, empathetic healthcare. The impact of healthcare differences with regard to minority groups is evident.
According to the CDC, “Though health indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality have improved for most Americans, some minorities experience a disproportionate burden of preventable disease, death, and disability compared with non-minorities.” These groups can include, but are not limited to, those who are seniors, less educated, low income, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and ethnic minorities1.
These struggles can lead to delays in preventative care as well as in necessary services, ultimately resulting in more immediate, expensive, and longer term medical interventions. Diminished satisfaction in the healthcare outcomes discourages trust in the system, leading to future delays.
When coupled with a sense of distance, discrimination, or a lack of understanding and acceptance by providers, community members may find it easier to simply wait until a catastrophe before seeking care rather than risk subjecting themselves to a cold or unsympathetic environment.
In addition to the issues created by a lack of knowledge about a community, healthcare workers’ implicit biases also may impact how patients are treated.
In a review of 15 studies on implicit racial/ethnic bias among healthcare professionals, low to moderate levels of implicit racial/ethnic bias were found among health care professionals in all but 1 study.2
These biases can lead to differences in how clinicians behave with members of different community populations, leading to a lack of equity in the quality of healthcare provided to patients. Patients can feel they are being stereotyped or judged as unworthy, foolish, or undeserving.
When this happens, patients may ask fewer questions or fail to obtain necessary follow-up care, leading to a less-desirable treatment experience and outcome. Community driven healthcare can help to prevent this occurrence.
The LGBTQ+ community is an example of a community that often feels discomfort when seeking healthcare.
Fear of discrimination brought on by law rollbacks such as those prohibiting covered healthcare from discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as personal experiences in which individuals felt judged or mistreated by healthcare workers has led to a feeling of marginalization by many members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Lack of understanding and utilization of appropriate language and terms relating to gender, sexuality, and the LGBTQ+ community create a sense of distance and lack of respect by healthcare professionals.
However, when clinics train workers to be sensitive to these topics and are transparent in their desire for outreach and inclusion, LGBTQ+ community members feel more welcome and are better able to ask for and embrace the care they need to continue or improve their well-being.
So, what does community driven healthcare do to help change this? According to the CDC, “Working at the community level… helps to reduce health gaps caused by differences in race and ethnicity, location, social status, income, and other factors that can affect health.”3
This means that cultural differences within the community are recognized and addressed through training and implementation of practices that assure clients that they will be treated fairly, compassionately, and with an understanding of the unique qualities of their social/financial group and their individuality.
Inclusivity and a commitment to nonjudgement create a bond with patients and the community. When healthcare providers understand not only what health risks the community faces, but also what social issues result in delays in requesting and receiving necessary care, they are better equipped to address these concerns and offer the community assistance and solutions.
Steps then can be taken to remedy any obstacles for treatment or impediments to patient comfort that healthcare institutions may have unknowingly created or perpetuated.
Clinics that focus on the community are a stepping stone to ensuring the public’s health. As Dr. C. Everett Coop stated: “Health care is vital to all of us some of the time, but public health is vital to all of us all of the time.”
By caring for individuals as they are, not through a cookie-cutter approach, clinics are able to reach further into communities, help more, and establish a bond that will extend into the community at large and future generations.
Establishing mutual respect and concern is a step that leads to improvements in the lives of everyone. Clinics are imperative to the community. The culture of respect fostered by community driven healthcare has the power to be transformative to clinicians and patients alike.
1“Minority Health and Health Equity – CDC,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 23, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/.
2Hall, William J., Mimi V. Chapman, Kent M. Lee, Yesenia M. Merino, Tainayah W. Thomas, B. Keith Payne, Eugenia Eng, Steven H. Day, and Tamera Coyne-Beasley. 2015. “Implicit Racial/Ethnic Bias Among Health Care Professionals and Its Influence on Health Care Outcomes: A Systematic Review.” American Journal of Public Health105 (12): e60–76. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2015.302903.
3“NCCDPHP: Community Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 17, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dch/about/index.htm.