By: Jovonni Spinner, MPH, CHES
In June 2015, I presented at the Health Disparities, Education, Awareness, Research, and Training (HDEART) workshop at Prairie View A&M University, near Houston. This annual workshop brought together nationally recognized leaders to discuss genomics, communications, bioethics, and other minority health issues, as well as disease-specific health programs, such as cancer, maternal health, and smoking cessation.
We know health disparities exist and minorities fare worse for many health outcomes. That is old news. The workshop promoted an open discussion and offered fresh ideas on bio-psychosocial approaches to address health disparities that will improve health equity.
The FDA’s George Strait moderated my panel, “Health Inequities, Health Communication, and the Media.” I spoke with three other public health experts and researchers about how to use communication strategies and collaborative models to reduce health disparities.
We focused on implicit and explicit bias among physicians, developing and implementing public health programs, and building a diverse health care workforce. We also discussed how changes in the private-practice model affect African-American physicians and their efforts to reduce health disparities.
I specifically talked about how the FDA Office of Minority Health (OMH) is building a robust outreach and communications program. OMH partners with minority-serving institutions to better engage minority groups, raise awareness around specific diseases, and develop linguistically and culturally appropriate health educational materials.
The HDEART panel was an excellent platform to raise the visibility of FDA’s role in improving minority health because the audience was filled with health care practitioners, researchers, and social workers who are engaged in these issues and did not know about us.
Here are some salient action items that emerged from the workshop:
- Support and increase funding for health disparities research;
- Implement strategies to remove communication and structural barriers;
- Improve literacy skills by investing in early childhood education;
- Recognize that multiple factors influence health equity and access to health care, including individual health behaviors, and social and environmental factors;
- Scale up innovative public health programs that have a positive effect on health outcomes in minority communities; and
- Find creative ways to reach the underserved; for example, use telemedicine to reach vulnerable and rural populations who do not have medical providers easily accessible.
During the lectures, I thought about how to apply this newfound knowledge to the work we do in OMH. Two areas came to mind: we can work to remove communication barriers and we can support health disparities research.
Moving forward, we can come up with strategies to:
- Build and strengthen our partnerships to reach a wider audience;
- Support our extramural and intramural research programs and facilitate scaling up successful projects; and
- Use innovative communication strategies to reach our audience.
We live in a global society where disease knows no borders. It is our job as a public health agency to employ a holistic approach to improving health equity. Diverse populations are not one dimensional, so one-dimensional solutions will not be enough. We need to identify factors that influence health and tackle the problem from all angles. Only then can we make progress in closing the disparity gap and improve health equity for all!
More information about FDA’s OMH can be found here: www.fda.gov/minorityhealth
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More information about the HDEART Workshop can be found here: http://www.pvamu.edu/nursing/hdeart/
Jovonni Spinner, M.P.H., C.H.E.S., is a Public Health Advisor in FDA’s Office of Minority Health