Social Justice In Health Care

The awareness about issues like racism, social discrimination, inequality in workplaces and society, etc has grown a lot over the past few years. While that is a good thing, we still have a long way to go before we can get rid of these problems.

Discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, etc is an unfortunate reality of our present. It is still widely present in various institutions of our country. One such system is our healthcare system.

Healthcare institutions are an integral part of our country. And over the last couple of years, their significance has multiplied tenfold. However, just like other institutions in our country, the healthcare system is also plagued by social discrimination, race and racism, and other similar issues. And that’s what we will be discussing today.

This blog post is dedicated to discussing such disparities and the importance of social justice in the healthcare system.

Two Major Things To Know About Today’s Healthcare System

When it comes to the present-day healthcare system, there are two things everyone should know about. The first one is that they are racially inequitable to a great extent. There are huge racial, gender, and class-related disparities present in most medical institutions.

The second thing to know is that our healthcare system is based on a very profitable model currently. The healthcare industry as a whole is generating a huge amount of profits every year.

Healthcare is a multi-billion dollar industry. And at every health clinic, the professionals are paid based on how high they can quote a visit. These charges or quotes are decided based on how sick a patient is. So naturally, the healthier someone is, the lower the quote and reimbursement will be. In other words, the current healthcare model revolves around professionals getting paid for people who are sick. Thus, people being healthy is a total financial disincentive for today’s medical industry.

This was not how the healthcare system used to operate earlier. For example, in ancient China, physicians were paid every day their patients were healthy. They didn’t get paid during the days their patients got sick. Because it was believed that the physician wasn’t doing their job in the best way. And this is the exact opposite of what we are doing today.

Imagining An Alternative Healthcare Model

In a nutshell, we can say that the present-day healthcare system benefits from the people who are sick, right? And that is something that should be changed. We need to bring a shift in the current model of the healthcare system. Shouldn’t the healthcare system be more about people's holistic wellness, promoting healthy habits, and not just about treatment and all the money they're making off of it?

Imagine what would happen if a physician starts getting reimbursed for every kid they treated who did not develop diabetes as an adult. Or what if a doctor’s care for a pregnant mother is reimbursed based on factors like the healthy weight and other such aspects of the child?

Such a reimbursement model will transform the entire healthcare industry. Insurance companies would start promoting health-based educational classes for people. They would willingly pay the patients to take educational classes, thereby helping them to stay disease-free! Wouldn’t this be amazing? And since it is payment-based, this model will still operate within the capitalistic framework of our society.

It will change how physicians are trained and how they work. And since the profits will be generated based on how healthy a person is, it will also encourage the medical system to promote the holistic well-being of people. For example, it will encourage medical students to get nutrition education, which right now is very insignificant. Most medical training programs do not focus on nutrition education (unless they are specifically designed for it).

Similarly, when a pregnant woman visits her OB-GYN for her regular check-up, she is rarely asked about her mental health even though we all know how much a pregnant mother’s mental health affects her baby. These things are not on the radar of the physicians because the current healthcare framework doesn’t reimburse a doctor based on how healthy their patient is.

However, things can be changed if there is a shift in this framework. If healthcare providers start focusing on the holistic well-being of their patients and if the industry starts paying them well for the same, things will change for the better.

Implementing such a system or even imagining it is not easy. But even if we can put something similar to it in place, the benefits would be tremendous. It will also pave the way for a healthcare system that has no place for any kind of social discrimination. Because patients would no longer be differentiated based on their gender, social class, or color.

Wouldn’t It Be Amazing If Doctors Are Incentivized To Take Care Of Themselves?

Working in the medical industry is not easy. It takes a toll on both your body and mind. Doctors encounter several overwhelming situations almost daily. And thus, medical professionals need to look after their own physical and mental health too.

While doctors ensure to provide the best possible treatment to their patients, they often overlook their health. Today, we have so many doctors and other people in the healthcare profession that don’t take care of themselves. This is the reason why the suicide rate among doctors is increasing at a rapid pace. Along with that, issues like drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and mental health problems are also rising among doctors. And what a tragedy it is! Professionals who help people to heal from such issues are struggling with them as well.

All of these need to be changed too. We, as a society, cannot keep going on like this. Thus, along with focusing on the well-being of the patients, the new healthcare framework should also reward doctors for taking care of their health.

The physical and mental health of a physician has a direct effect on the health of their patients. And we need to recognize and accept this fact. Thus, if we can reimburse physicians, nutritionists, social workers, and everyone else involved in the healthcare system for taking care of their own selves too, it will bring much-needed change to the medical industry. And due to the increased incentive and better lifestyle, we will also have more people entering these jobs. So, it will be a win-win for everyone!

Unfortunately, A Person’s Socio-Economic Status Plays A Vital Role In Today’s Healthcare System 

As we discussed at the beginning of this blog post, the healthcare system is full of social discrimination. Patients are judged based on their economic status, societal standing, color, race, and whatnot!

Decisions are not taken based on what is the best and most cost-efficient treatment plan. Instead, they are taken based on the most profitable treatment option. Patients are pressurized to make crucial decisions quickly and on the spot. More often than not, patients have to pull some strings to get things done.

I would like to share a real-life example here. The other day, when I was working in the hospital with other residents, we got presented with a new patient who was admitted overnight. None of us had met this patient before so we knew almost nothing about them.

During the presentation, we got to know that the patient was a young man in his early 40s. He had really bad kidney disease. And part of the presentation was about the patient’s history of leaving the hospital against medical advice.

Now, it is common amongst us, the residents, to talk about the patients before we go on our rounds to see them. When I heard about this patient’s habit of leaving the hospital against medical advice, it made me believe that he is going to be a difficult patient. Even though I knew next to nothing about him, I still believed that it would be difficult to deal with him. This is how an unconscious bias is created in the minds of people, isn’t it?

However, when we met with this patient, we found out that he is a single dad to a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. And because he is the only caregiver for his kids, he can't be in the hospital for weeks on end. This made us see the situation in a completely new light. All our bias against this patient shattered and we were able to empathize with him.

The most unfortunate thing was that he had to spend so much time in the hospital just waiting for his procedures to be done. Normally, his dialysis and other such procedures could be done in two-three days. But due to the widely prevalent red-tapism and social bias, he had to spend weeks in the hospital unnecessarily. The patient wasn’t leaving the hospital willingly, he was doing so because things weren’t being done for him on time.

This made us realize that we are a part of the problem too. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have become the reason why a patient is unable to take their medicine or get their treatment. The healthcare system was failing this man and so many other patients like him out there. There is always an implicit bias in how people are seen and treated in hospitals. Patients are treated differently based on race, gender, class, etc. A lot of this also depends on your socio-economic status.

People belonging to a high socio-economic status do not have to go through a lot of trouble to get their voices heard. On the other hand, patients who have a low socio-economic status or are not influential enough, may not be listened to as much. While all of this is indeed very unfortunate, it is the reality!

To Redesign The Present-Day Healthcare System, Physicians Need To Re-Educate Themselves

Doctors can play a vital role in improving our healthcare system and freeing it from all the social discrimination and inequalities. As a doctor, you are the wheel of the healthcare industry and you have the power to bring a positive change here. However, doing so wouldn’t be easy.

You will have to re-educate yourself and unlearn a lot of what you learned in medical school and residency. And you will have to focus more on the things we talked about today. For example, as a physician, instead of treating diabetes in kids, you will have to put more emphasis on how to
help prevent diabetes in a kid starting from childhood and help families build those habits to prevent diabetes in children.

Similarly, as an OB-GYN, you will have to start talking more about the mental health and stress of the pregnant woman. You will have to prepare the expecting parents to have a smooth transition to parenthood by educating them about all the relevant things related to their baby. And to adopt this new approach and support your patients in this improved way, you will have to re-educate yourself first.

While all of this will be on a very small scale and will take time to give results, it is still a step forward in the right direction. It is a positive shift that needs to take place sooner rather than later. If every healthcare professional starts focusing on the holistic well-being of their patients, adopting a better healthcare framework will become easier. It will also open the road to equality and social justice in the healthcare industry!

It Is Also Important To Do A Thorough Cost-Benefit Analysis Of This Prevention-Based Healthcare Model

A shift from the profit-based healthcare model to a prevention-based model is only possible after doing a thorough cost-benefit analysis. Because we live in a capitalist society that operates on profit. And this system is going to be there for a long while. Thus, an ideal healthcare model should focus on both the patient’s health as well as profits.

After all, if we focus only on the prevention of diseases, how will people continue to make money? How will the medical industry operate? And how will the healthcare private hospitals thrive? A successful transition to a more patient-friendly healthcare model is only possible by finding the best answers to the above questions. Because let’s accept it, no matter what kind of framework we design, if it doesn’t make sense financially, adopting it would not be possible.

In Closing

So that was all about social justice in the healthcare industry. At Soul Focused Group, we care about the health and well-being of every individual.

We believe that the only way in which we can have a healthy and happy future is by removing all discrimination and inequalities from the medical industry. Every patient, no matter their race, color, or gender, deserves to be treated equally by their doctors. And a shift in the healthcare model is necessary for that!

We are so glad that you have joined us on this journey. If you liked this piece, we invite you to check out our website, listen to our podcast, and check out our YouTube channel. We have several new and exciting things coming up for you!