COVID-19 Updates

Podcast — Eliminating Health Disparities with Dr. Robert Winn (VCU Health)

Key Takeaways

Defining Health Disparities

  • Health disparities are present when two populations that, theoretically, should be receiving an equal amount of care are experiencing different outcomes.
  • Differences between these populations are less about race and more about socioeconomic class and zip code.

Impact of COVID-19 on Health Disparities

  • The combination of COVID-19 and America’s recent state of social unrest has made it challenging to ignore these glaring health disparities in our country.
  • Americans have been living in quarantine for the better part of 2020, creating fewer distractions for those who were not looking at race and social injustice head-on. 

Handling the vaccine in underserved populations

  • Since March 2020, Dr. Winn has been meeting with pastors and leaders of faith organizations in Richmond, Virginia every week.
  • These meetings were a springboard for building trust with community leaders and encouraged over 300 people to sign up for vaccine trials. i.    However, recent controversial news coverage on the vaccine led the group to express a lack of trust in the trials, and many are no longer willing to participate.
  • According to Dr. Winn, “the only way you build community trust is drop by drop, but as we’ve seen, you can lose it in buckets.”

Medical Mistrust

  • There are numerous historical cases illustrate why minority groups experience trust issues with the healthcare industry.
  • To move forward past this mistrust, health professionals and systems must admit their faults and acknowledge systemic flaws.

Health Disparities in Richmond, Virginia

  • A “bench to bedside” model is good, but has its shortcomings. If people do not have access to a health system’s bedside, they cannot benefit from its bench to bedside care. 
  • A more modern, 21st century model focuses on making access to care closer to home. VCU Health has been partnering with community health centers and hospitals to make this happen. 
  • Part of every grant approved for the VCU Massey Cancer Center includes a plan for that grant to hire someone from the community they are doing the work in. 
  • Dr. Winn is also making an effort to improve internet access for all. Today, a patient’s access to healthcare is dependent on his or her access to the virtual world –– a world that, unfortunately, remains woefully unequal.

Tactics to Combat Health Disparities for Health Systems 

  • Acknowledge that those who find themselves born into underserved populations and neighborhoods are not at fault for their circumstances. 
  • Do not disrupt neighborhoods and by arriving uninvited to tell residents what they should and should not be doing. Health care collaborators should ask permission to work in partnership to learn what a healthier life could look like, together. 
  • Real change is not about community outreach or engagement programs. It’s about true community involvement, where the input of locals helps to refine –– and in many cases, define –– the approach that a health system should take to appropriately meet the needs of underserved populations.