Don Spiers

Health equity is an area of focus gaining traction in the healthcare industry, with increased visibility from COVID-19’s harsher impacts on specific patient populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health equity is when each person has the chance to reach “his or her full health potential,” without facing obstacles from “social position or other socially determined circumstances.” This includes but is not limited to ethnic and racial background, where a person lives and a person’s age.

Health equity considerations in home care

Home care settings offer a few defining factors (as opposed to hospitals or urgent cares) that give those providing care a unique opportunity to help advance health equity.

  1. A more diverse workforce: According to PHI, more than half of home care workers are people of color and nearly one in three were born outside the United States.   

Why it matters: Safe, high-quality care is dependent upon an exchange of understanding and trust between those providing and receiving care. Without clear, effective and mutual communication, the delivery of high-quality, effective care is in jeopardy.

For healthcare workers and those they care for, the care being provided and received is viewed through a cultural lens. With this diversity in home care staff comes an opportunity to connect more closely with those receiving care, as language barriers are overcome, and cultural considerations are understood and aligned.

2. Rural care settings: Long-term care that includes home care services can be provided in rural areas, meeting the needs of persons unable to travel to major cities for care.

Why it matters: The majority of healthcare professionals provide services in and around cities. In one study of over 6,500 healthcare professionals, less than 2% were located in rural areas. This reality makes accessing care more difficult for people living in rural regions, making home care a critical option.

Already designed to reach rural areas, home care agencies serve a major need for one of the most vulnerable patient populations. Leveraging home care’s capabilities to reach rural areas ensures care is being delivered to a patient population that might otherwise forfeit care.

3. Advanced-age patient population: Long-term care (including home care) focuses primarily on an older patient population, which brings specific sets of challenges – such as age discrimination – and opportunities to improve care.

Why it matters: According to a recent study, perceived age discrimination was associated with increased odds of poor self-rated health and risk of incident serious health problems over a six-year period. Age discrimination becomes problematic when a care provider assumes someone’s medical issues are a result of aging, instead of investigating other causes based on their symptoms. Those receiving long-term care are often stereotyped as being confused or hesitant to be honest about the severity of their symptoms.

Home care projections: future surge

By 2030, an estimated 82 million Americans will be over the age of 65, and over the coming decades America’s older population is projected to nearly double. This surge in an older patient population will undoubtedly have strong implications for home care aides.

As health equity continues to be a leading national priority, those working in home care have a unique role to play in advancing these efforts and deserve more resources and support than ever before.

Don Spiers is a senior product manager at Relias, providing market insight on home health, hospice and home care. Prior to Relias, he worked in home- and community-based support services for over five years, serving persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Don holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biological science, with a focus in microbiology, from North Carolina State University.