Minority Health Month: Power of Prevention

April is National Minority Health Month. The slogan: “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity” is the theme of the month.

Chronic illnesses — heart disease, diabetes and hypertension — represent a major health crisis, especially for African-Americans, according to federal data. Each year, heart disease claims the lives of 600,000 Americans, including 147,000 African-Americans. But that’s just part of the picture.

On the list of the “Top 10 Causes of Death” in the African-American community, the U.S. Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) ranks cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke as the top four causes.

For the general population, the incidence of diabetes doubled between 1990 and 2008, according to a report by the CDC published in the a recent edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Researchers have discovered a leveling off of diabetes diagnoses between 2008 and 2012 for the overall U.S. adult population. Unfortunately, though, three subgroups – non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics and adults with only a high school education or less – showed a significant increase in the number of diagnosed cases of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

“Despite great improvements in the overall health of the U.S. population, health disparities remain widespread among members of racial and ethnic minority populations. Members of these groups are more likely than whites to have poor health and to die prematurely,” the CDC reports.

Treatable illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer, can become unmanageable or fatal when patients lack access to affordable healthcare, says Yvonne Johnson, M.D., medical director of quality for Baptist Health Quality Network, a clinically integrated network of healthcare providers working together to improve the health of their patients and the quality of healthcare overall.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can lead to fatal or debilitating strokes or heart attacks. But primary care visits, including regular blood pressure screenings, can prevent manageable health problems from developing into life-threatening situations. Likewise, cancer treatments are most effective and life-saving when the disease is detected early, she adds.

“The most advantageous way of managing chronic illnesses is to have a primary care doctor who manages your health, rather than waiting until you feel bad and are visiting the ER,” says Dr. Johnson, who is also co-medical director of the Emergency Department at South Miami Hospital.

Primary care focuses on improving a patient’s health and well-being through preventive, proactive medical care. By partnering with the patient, primary care physicians provide cons​istent, comprehensive care for all stages of an individual’s life.

“The challenge to the medical community is to improve access and broaden the hours that primary care offices are open to patients,” she says. “That’s one of the things we are working on with the Baptist Health Quality Network. We’re encouraging physician offices to have nontraditional office hours, including Saturdays, early mornings and evenings.”

Baptist Health opened three new primary care locations in 2014 with extended hours and has a long history of partnering with community leaders to deliver healthcare to those in need. In 2007, for example, South Miami Hospital—a Baptist Health facility—joined forces with the City of South Miami to establish South Miami Children’s Clinic, a free neighborhood clinic that annually serves 1,200 uninsured or under-insured children who live in South Miami.

For the extended South Florida community, Baptist Health offers free prevention and wellness programs, including health screenings at community events, exercise and nutrition classes, and presentations about heart disease, diabetes management and cancer prevention.

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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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