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Addressing Health Disparities with Community Outreach

Internist Sanjai Sinha, MD, explains the methods of community outreach to help connect racial and ethnic minorities to preventative health care.

Lauren SmithPreeti Parikh, MD
Written by Lauren Smith | Reviewed by Preeti Parikh, MD
Published on June 26, 2020

Preventative care—including recommended screenings, vaccines, and annual checkups—is one of the best ways to manage your health. They can help reduce your risk of serious illnesses, and to catch any diseases early, while they are easier to treat.

To level the playing field for people regardless of income level, many screenings and vaccines are offered for free. These offerings have helped millions of Americans over the years—but not everyone is taking advantage of them. Why?

Improving Trust

There are many reasons—and there are other barriers to health care besides money—but some of it comes down to trust, according to Sanjai Sinha, MD, internist at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Many studies have found that Black and Hispanic patients are more likely to trust doctors who look like them. Here’s the problem: As of 2019, 56.2 percent of physicians are White, according to the Association of American Medical College. By comparison, only 5 percent of physicians are Black or African American, and 5.8 percent are Hispanic.

Community Outreach to Address Racial Disparities

In addition to improving the racial diversity of doctors and nurses, healthcare facilities are also using community outreach. This can help healthcare facilities to connect with people who are not utilizing health programs.

“For instance, if I have several patients who all live in a community who don’t get any vaccines, but they all go to a certain church, or they go to a certain social setting where there are people, [they can help] to better understand what do these patients think about vaccines,” says Dr. Sinha. “What are their barriers? Can we get through those barriers? What is it about their values or preferences?”

Outreach can be conversations in those churches or social settings, but it can also include mobile units (to provide free screenings, tests, or checkups), educational resources, or providing free transportation to medical services. (Here are more ways health care is connecting with vulnerable populations.)

Dr. Sinha says it’s essential for physicians to be open-minded and listen to their patient’s concerns, and not just focus on being “right” or the authority figure. “It’s our job to try to find the answers in that community to work with,” he says.

Additional Medical Contributors
  • Sanjai Sinha, MDDr. Sinha specializes in internal medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.
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