In the United States, and other countries of the world, there are gaps in healthcare. There are gaps in the system, where people’s needs are overlooked and unmet. Health advocacy attempts to fill these gaps. It seeks to ensure that all people have access to affordable and effective care. But how does health advocacy work, and why do we need it? That is what we will be answering in this article today.
The Main Components of Health Advocacy
- Access to care
Health advocacy programs and professionals work to ensure that people who need appropriate care are able to get it. Every day, there are people who need care but are unable to access it, either due to lack of awareness of resources, lack of transportation, and/or any other hindrances. Health advocacy works to minimize and eliminate these barriers to healthcare accessibility.
Because of existing disparities in income and class, there are many who struggle to get the healthcare services they need. Advocacy aims to help these individuals and families so that lack of finances is not a barrier to the care they need.
- Social justice
An often overlooked aspect of health advocacy is social justice. Health advocacy aims to reduce, and where possible, eliminate injustices in institutions and organizations that adversely affect outcomes of care.
Why Is Health Advocacy Needed?
The Centers for Disease Control states: “Despite decades of effort, disparities persist, and changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the population have important consequences for the nation’s health. NCHS data have long documented disparities in a wide range of health indicators, including life expectancy, infant mortality, a variety of risk factors, health insurance coverage, access to care, and use of health care services.”
“Although the term disparities is often interpreted to mean racial or ethnic disparities, many dimensions of disparity exist in the United States, particularly in health. If a health outcome is seen to a greater or lesser extent between populations, there is disparity. Race or ethnicity, sex, sexual identity, age, disability, socioeconomic status, and geographic location all contribute to an individual’s ability to achieve good health.” –healthypeople.gov
The goal of health advocacy is health equity for all. Healthy People 2020 defines health equity as the “attainment of the highest level of health for all people. Achieving health equity requires valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and the elimination of health and health care disparities.”
Health advocacy is especially needed for those who find it challenging to navigate the healthcare system by themselves. This includes those who are most vulnerable, such as children, the learning disabled, elderly, prisoners, low-income individuals and families, and people with low literacy or who struggle with language.
Careers in Health Advocacy
Health advocacy incorporates many healthcare disciplines and as a result is able to bridge gaps between teams, departments, and sectors within healthcare. As such, health advocates work for multiple different settings and in varied organizations, including:
- Nonprofit organizations
- For-profit, health organizations
- Local, state, national, and international governments
- Colleges and universities
- Private foundations
It is important to note that someone may not have the title of ‘health(care) advocate’ but may still have health advocacy tasks in their role. Many case managers and care coordinators, for example, advocate for vulnerable individuals and families.
There is a pressing need for health advocacy within the healthcare system and it is important we understand and support the cause. If you cannot advocate for yourself, or you know of someone in need of advocacy, reach out to local or domestic organizations such as the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy (NAHAC).