The World Health Organization states that health is determined by a person’s individual characteristics and behaviors, physical environment, and socioeconomic environment. Unfortunately, this means that not all people have access to quality healthcare because they simply do not have the means to pay for it or because there are other barriers that prevent their access.
Join us as we delve deeper into the healthcare crisis affecting millions of Americans by analyzing how healthcare differs across specific patient populations.
The need for healthcare
Healthcare is and always will be a necessity as the population grows and the need for screening, diagnosis, and treatment of an array of health issues increases. Necessary to prevent disease and other chronic ailments, the healthcare system in America is an ongoing issue, as access to life-saving treatments and services is reserved for those who can afford it.
Timely access to healthcare services can help control illnesses and diseases, keeping infection numbers low and assisting with the easier management of chronic conditions. Currently, access to these necessary healthcare services is not available to all, as factors like availability, transportation, insurance, and the cost of healthcare come into play.
There is no doubt that adequate health care can change the lives of many Americans. The problem comes when the factors we will be discussing in this article hamper the treatment of those who need it most.
The main functions of healthcare services
Healthcare, as we have mentioned, is a necessity and a right for all in the US. Here are the main functions of the healthcare system as we know it today:
- To diagnose, treat, or maintain certain diseases
- To provide vital healthcare services like family planning
- To prevent the spread of disease
- To manage chronic illness
- To maintain the health of those who need medical intervention
Unfortunately, the above functions are not available to all citizens or members of the population, as too many factors come into play and make accessing the necessary healthcare services impossible.
Healthcare in the US is determined by the following factors:
- The cost of healthcare in America
- Level of urbanization and location of healthcare services
- The need for specialized medical care
- Barriers that may affect access
Let’s look at each of these in more detail as we try to determine the differences in healthcare services across the different population groups in America.
The cost of healthcare in America
It’s no secret that healthcare costs in America are some of the highest in the world, with medications, ambulance services, and basic medical care not being as affordable as they should be. The truth is that quality healthcare is reserved for the rich or those who can afford medical insurance, while the rest of the population does their utmost to access healthcare services that will not see them running into debt or cutting into their already minute budgets.
Poverty plays a big role in accessing healthcare, and it is simply not affordable for those who already have difficulty putting food on the table and raising their families while the cost of living increases exponentially.
In a fair and just world, healthcare would be both affordable and accessible to every single citizen in the US, but this is simply not sustainable, leaving many with very little or no access to good-quality healthcare they can afford.
Urbanization and its effect on healthcare services
Urbanization is a big driver in the fight to access quality healthcare services, as increases in population numbers put even more pressure on the already burgeoning healthcare system, which sees hospitals and other healthcare facilities overrun with patients or short-staffed.
With more and more people moving to the cities to find employment and start their careers, overpopulation is becoming an issue that affects not only the availability of housing and accommodations but also access to healthcare services.
Environmental changes, genetic conditions, and a rise in infectious diseases among the common American are all constant drivers of the need for specialized care. But these facilities are not always available where they are most needed and require costly travel to access.
Gone are the days of your local hospital being able to treat any and all illnesses, as hospitals and healthcare facilities outsource much of their care to more specialized facilities that have the necessary medical staff, equipment, and treatment plans to deal with specific ailments or diagnoses.
These specialized care facilities, however, do not come cheap and are only accessible to those who can afford the costly medical bills, travel costs, and other necessary costs that come with specialized care.
Barriers to healthcare services
There are a great number of barriers that make accessing healthcare services difficult for specific and different population groups. And while you would rightly think that access to healthcare is a right for citizens of the US, this is not always the case, as the barriers become more apparent each year.
Here are a few of the barriers that we will look at in more detail as we try to understand just why healthcare differs across specific patient populations:
- Race and ethnicity
- Geography or location
Race and ethnicity
With it being 2023, you would think that race no longer plays a role in accessing life-saving healthcare services. But sadly, here we are again talking about race and ethnicity.
African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, American Indians, and Pacific Islanders are usually classified in the lower socioeconomic groups, with many of these people earning the minimum wage or less. Most often, their income is too low to afford medical insurance, leading them to rely on state-funded clinics and healthcare facilities.
Living in poorer areas also opens up the possibility of an increase in infectious diseases and higher mortality rates than those in the medium to upper socioeconomic classes.
Sex should not affect the level of healthcare that you receive, but in America, it does. Females typically tend to seek out medical care more often than men. This is especially prevalent in the childbearing years and also after menopause, when the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases is at an all-time high. Females, as a whole, need more regular healthcare screenings, but this is not always possible and is often delayed.
Studies show that females 18 years of age and older are more likely to delay their healthcare screenings due to cost, with medical insurance now considered a luxury. Thankfully, facilities like planned parenthood, local clinics, and physicians are able to provide these necessary screenings.
Males tend to have higher rates of obesity than females and are more prone to cardiovascular diseases in their adult years. But societal standards and expectations often come into play with males delaying or ignoring their medical needs as patriarchy promotes the masculine ideal of the “stronger” sex, expected to ignore their pain or suffering and continue to be strong. This is an issue, as males are far more likely to suffer from sudden cardiac arrest or a stroke, as they have higher rates of cardiovascular disease that tend to be ignored.
Most ignored in healthcare is the transgender community. Unlike cisgender males and females, transgender patients are at risk of not receiving any of their needed gender-affirming care. In many states, it is either difficult to access or at risk of being banned.
Regular health screenings for all genders are essential in bridging the gap that currently divides healthcare needs, with annual check-ups recommended by doctors and physicians in the US.
If you’ve watched a medical drama on television, you will see how often the needs of non-English speakers are not met or simply ignored, as healthcare practitioners are not trained to engage with translators and find themselves unable to understand the needs of the patient.
Flores (2006) referred to some shocking statistics that showed that around 49 million Americans speak a language other than English as their home language, with a further 22 million having very little skills or proficiency in the English language.
This can make for some pretty difficult diagnosis and treatment, as there is a definite language barrier that either affects the patient’s ability to share their symptoms or hampers treatment as they do not understand what the doctor is saying.
Another shocking statistic, also by Flores, states that only 23% of the many teaching hospitals in America provide basic training to medical staff on how to work with interpreters or breach the obvious language barrier.
America is home to a number of cultures, ethnic groups, and languages but is still unable to provide the necessary provisions to deal with the language barriers that so often hamper the treatment of these patients.
Your age has a big impact on your health, and so does your ability to access adequate healthcare services. With cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and a number of other health issues more prevalent in older people, younger adults are generally healthier.
But, once again, the cost is a factor when seeking healthcare services for many older Americans, as the cost of medical insurance is simply not affordable to those who truly need it most.
While many companies do make pension funds available, the cost of basic healthcare services in America is expensive and not accessible to everyone. It is, again, a case of rich vs. poor where medical insurance is concerned, and those who cannot afford it are forced to delay their treatments or find alternative (cheaper) healthcare services at state-funded clinics and facilities.
A quick google search will tell you that an average medical insurance plan will cost anywhere between $300 and $500, depending on age. This is simply not affordable for those in lower socioeconomic groups.
Medical insurance has become somewhat of a luxury for many Americans, but even those with these insurance plans find that medical costs are simply too much to bear. With ambulances and other healthcare services available at exorbitant costs, the average American is forced to find their own transportation to and from the hospital, often sitting in emergency departments for hours on end in a bid to find treatment options for their ailments.
Income has also recently become a factor in treating chronic diseases, as the cost of life-saving medications like insulin, antiretroviral, and even chemotherapy costs more than some people’s monthly salaries. We’ve all heard horror stories of diabetic patients taking less than the recommended dose of insulin simply to make their expensive medicine last a bit longer than it should.
The most expensive services currently causing a divide between the wealthy and the poor are:
- Ambulance services
- Treatment for diabetes
- Costs of chemotherapy and cancer treatments
Unfortunately, there is no quick solution on the horizon to bring these costs down any time soon, leaving many patients at risk of death or suffering as they cannot afford life-saving treatments.
Geography or location
Healthcare services are often affected by geography or the patient’s location, as those who live in more rural areas of America would need to travel to hospitals or other healthcare facilities in nearby towns or cities. This makes specialized care harder to obtain, too, as specialized care facilities are most often located in larger cities.
For those living in smaller, rural areas, healthcare services are harder to obtain, with only one or two doctors located in the town or area. And with cost being a major factor in the ability to access healthcare services, travel is not always easy or an option for those who are living hand-to-mouth or do not have medical insurance.
Healthcare services and the disabled
It’s no secret that the disabled have extensive health needs. Those who are both poorer and disabled suffer more, as they have less access to the necessary treatments, poor nutrition, less support, and cannot afford their medications.
In a global study conducted into the healthcare needs and available services for the disabled, it was found that these people faced significant barriers in accessing the necessary healthcare services they so desperately needed. From living far away from medical facilities to not having sufficient support in accessing adequate healthcare services, it was established that the healthcare needs of the disabled were largely unmet.
The value of nursing staff
A hospital’s ability to effectively treat patients is only as good as its medical personnel. With doctors often severely overworked and understaffed, nursing staff have become invaluable as they administer care and treatment to their patients.
Nurses are often the unsung heroes of a hospital or healthcare facility, doing more than just changing IV bags and delivering medications to patients; they are often the first port of call for patients who have a question, need a hand moving around, or need to communicate with the hospital.
Often becoming patient advocates, nurses are best placed to communicate with doctors and often have the task of taking over primary care once a diagnosis has been established and a treatment option is decided upon.
Statistics show that every hospital has approximately 60 nursing staff in various departments throughout the hospital. And while this may seem sufficient, illness, maternity leave, or crises often leave hospitals short-staffed. America needs more nurses, as there are just not enough to provide the necessary healthcare services that are sorely lacking for the majority of Americans.
How can a career in nursing change the course of the medical industry?
America, and the world at large, is in a state of crisis where there are simply not enough medical personnel to test, diagnose, and treat patients. The coronavirus caused havoc in the healthcare industry and highlighted the glaring lack of medical personnel available at various healthcare facilities in America.
You can make a difference when you choose a career in nursing. A master’s in nursing can open a great many doors in the healthcare industry and also give you the opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of the patients we have discussed in this article.
Choose a career in one of the following fields in nursing and help bring life-changing healthcare services to those who need them most:
- Family nursing
- Mental health
- Emergency department
These are, of course, only a handful of options available, so be sure to click on the link above to see what awaits you when you choose a career in nursing. Masters in nursing, or MSNs, typically take between 18 months and three years to complete.
Healthcare services, like many other necessary services, are not always available at the same level to specific patient groups and populations in America. With the cost of healthcare services mostly unaffordable to most Americans, their health suffers as they cannot afford or simply do not have access to adequate services due to the reasons we have discussed in this article.
You can make a significant difference in making healthcare services more accessible to different patient populations by considering a career in nursing or registering for a master’s in nursing.
Different approaches to patient treatment are vital to ensuring that basic healthcare needs are met, and this is where a master’s in nursing can make a difference.