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Health and Healthcare Disparities

Health disparities were best defined as the “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.” (Community Health and Program Services (CHAPS): Health Disparities among Racial/Ethnic Populations. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2008). Disparities result from complex interactions among many factors that are unevenly distributed across people of different backgrounds, including race, ethnicity, gender, residence, physical or mental ability, income, and more. These factors (e.g., social conditions such as housing, economic policies, institutional factors, health system factors, the physical environment, and social relationships) affect the circumstances in which people live, work, and play. Healthcare disparities arise when there are differences in the care that individuals from social groups receive from medical professionals and healthcare systems. Disparities in care may come system-level policies or from a lack of sensitivity to patients’ cultural beliefs, preferences, needs and values; an inability to communicate without using medical jargon; less participatory communication styles; implicit biases regarding race, social class, or physical appearance; and discomfort with uncertainty in dealing with someone who is different, among health professionals.

Researchers at the Welch Center work to achieve health and healthcare equity by conducting research on the multiple levels (individual, interpersonal, organizational, community, and public policy) that impact the health of individuals and communities. Faculty members have projects that range all the way from how individual behaviors impact health (such as eating healthy and taking medications as prescribed), to how the choices people make are constrained by the choices they have (such as not having access to fresh, healthy food markets, lacking economic resources or safe housing, or not supportive family or friends). Some projects examine how patient-provider communication and health system factors such as organizational cultural influences health disparities. The fastest growing area of health disparities research in the Welch Center is interventions to overcome health disparities. Collaborations among Welch Center faculty, faculty from other parts of the University, and researchers across the country enhance the contributions of many scientific disciplines to our research and increase the relevance of the work to national and international populations. Additionally, disparities researchers build strong partnerships with community members and organizations and policy-makers and engage them in all aspects of the research process, to assure relevance of the science to communities impacted by health disparities.

Our faculty members are leaders in the field of health and healthcare disparities research. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity is led by Welch Center faculty member Lisa A. Cooper, MD, MPH. There are many opportunities for trainees to become involved in health disparities research and learning opportunities, including the monthly Health Equity Jam Sessions, an informal opportunity to talk about current and potential research being done in this area.

Welch Center Faculty with research interests in health and healthcare disparities include: Lawrence Appel, Mary Catherine Beach, Kathryn Carson, Lisa Cooper, Deidra Crews, Gail Daumit, Raquel Greer, Kimberly Gudzune, Edgar Miller, Craig Pollack, and Jessica Yeh.