Pharmacy Plays an Important Role in Social Justice in Healthcare
For much of 2020 the country has struggled to address the issue of social justice and equality and, while this issue transcends health care, it is an important element of our health care system that will receive more attention in 2021 under a Biden/Harris administration. In her article on this topic, nursing leader Mary Atkinson Smith stated, “Our health care institutions must be balanced in a way to avoid monopolies that create unfair barriers, leaving vulnerable populations unable to obtain needed health-related services.”
Social justice seeks to ensure that the distribution of healthcare services and resources occurs equally and benefits vulnerable populations to the same extent as more affluent populations. The overall goal of social justice is the promotion of equality for all in access to healthcare and in the quality of the care received. This is becoming more critical In the U.S. today as we are dealing with growing numbers of vulnerable populations. This is in part driven by a growing shift in income inequality; a shift in population demographics with an aging population and an increasing minority population; an increase in chronic disease prevalence; and a decrease in health care resources for low-income communities.
As noted earlier, social justice overall is a focus for the Biden/Harris administration. In terms of health care, U.S. maternal mortality rates in minority populations are significantly higher than the general population as a prime example of a disparity that needs to be addressed. Greater access to quality care is planned around significant expansion of community health centers. More funding and access to care for mental health is planned. Greater support for addiction treatment and prevention is also planned. And, overall, greater access for all Americans to health care coverage is planned with a particular emphasis on low-income and more vulnerable populations.
At the same time that these issues are being addressed there is also a need to educate ourselves to create a better understanding of the issues that minority populations face, not only as patients, but also as members of the healthcare community. Ensuring that our workforce and leadership teams are representative of the populations we serve will be an important element of the 2021 social justice movement. Pharmacy should be cognizant of what is needed to ensure that our profession recognizes and addresses this need in 2021 and beyond.