Baptist Health Experts on Closing the Healthcare Gap Among Minorities

As defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health equity is reached when everyone has “a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.” Nonetheless, the CDC concedes that achieving this requires addressing “historical and contemporary injustices” among minorities. 

Experts with Baptist Health South Florida took part in a Resource LIVE, Closing the Gap in Minority Health, that focused on these disparities in healthcare. April was National Minority Health Month to bring attention to the disparities affecting racial and ethnic minority populations. Tamika Bickham, award-winning storyteller and host, moderated the Resource LIVE.

“Life expectancy and infant mortality have improved for most Americans, but some minorities experience a disproportionate burden of preventable disease, death, and disability when compared with non-minorities,” said Ms. Bickham. “And things like transportation, education, income, and access to nutritious foods have a major impact on people getting the proper healthcare we have with us today.”

The Baptist Health panel featured:  Manmeet Ahluwalia, M.D., M.B.A., deputy director, chief scientific officer and chief of solid tumor medical oncology at Miami Cancer Institute; Adedapo Iluyomade, M.D., preventive cardiologist at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute; and Yvonne Johnson, M.D., chief medical officer at South Miami Hospital.

Manmeet Ahluwalia, M.D., M.B.A., deputy director, chief scientific officer and chief of solid tumor medical oncology at Miami Cancer Institute.

Minorities suffer disproportionately from health disparities, explains Dr. Ahluwalia. “What that means is a lower life expectancy, a decreased quality of life and loss of economic opportunities for society,” he said. “These disparities translate into decreased productivity, increased healthcare costs and social inequity. So, despite all the progress that has been made in the last several decades, we do know that disparities persist.”

Here are question-and-answer excerpts from the Resource LIVE, which can be seen here in its entirety:

Ms. Bickham: What kind of cultural stigmas have you seen in your years of practice and what can we do to overcome those stigmas in healthcare?

Dr. Johnson:
“A lot of it has changed over time. Once upon a time early in my career, things like cancer were a stigma to have it in your family. So, people just didn’t talk about it. Now, I’ve seen, particularly in African American communities, there’s this phrase: ‘I’m not claiming it.’ So, doctor, you know, you can tell me about my high sugar, but I’m not claiming diabetes. So, I think what we have to understand that it’s not about claiming it and wearing it like — I have this burden of this disease. It’s about accepting that now you need to treat and do something about it.

Yvonne Johnson, M.D., chief medical officer at South Miami Hospital.

“Another thing that I have found is that people are willing to kind of say: Okay, I have this, but as long as I don’t have to take medicine for it, I’m okay. When you have a medical condition, particularly one of those chronic medical conditions that can lead to other illnesses, like high blood pressure and diabetes, you need to treat it with, whatever means necessary. So, if diet and exercise worked for you, great, but it is not good enough to say: ‘Well, I’m almost normal, but I don’t have to take any medicine.’ That’s not good enough … if medicine was required, then that’s what’s required.”

Ms. Bickham: How important would you say is it to know your family’s medical history and how does it impact health equity?

Dr. Iluyomade:
“It’s extremely important to know your family’s history, especially when it comes to preventing diseases and ailments going forward. One of the issues is that, culturally, some minority populations just don’t have that open communication about sensitive subjects such as a family history of cardiovascular disease or cancers. And the lack of those discussions ultimately leads to less screenings, as we see with breast cancer. We know that African American women are more likely to have, triple negative breast cancer. And although they are at higher risk of that particular kind of breast cancer, they’re underrepresented in the genetic screenings and genetic testing referrals. So, opening that line of communication between family members is extremely important for screenings and for early diagnosis of disease.”

Adedapo Iluyomade, M.D., preventive cardiologist at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

Ms. Bickham: What makes it difficult for some people to make their health a priority

Dr. Ahluwalia:
“We do know that level of education, for example, has been correlated with prevalence of certain health risks, like obesity, lack of physical activity and cigarette smoking. And an important thing to remember is that a high number of minorities can be immigrants. And although some immigrants are highly educated and have high income levels, there’s a lack of familiarity with the U.S. healthcare system, and different cultural attitudes about the use of traditional and conventional medicine. Lack of fluency in English can also pose barriers to obtaining adequate health status.

“And sometimes it’s all about time. You know, a lot of people who are coming to this country sometimes work two jobs. So, if you’re working too hard, you may not show up for your doctor’s appointment or you may not have a caregiver who’s available to take you. So, it’s a fairly complex problem, but a very critical one for us to address as a society.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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