There is no denying that Americans, in general, have access to some of the best healthcare anywhere in the world. However, that doesn’t mean the healthcare system is perfect. Several significant healthcare challenges are facing the country today. Combined, they limit access to care, result in poor health outcomes for select groups of people, and have implications far beyond the industry.
Racial Healthcare Disparities
Generations of unequal access to healthcare have created stark differences in health outcomes across racial and ethnic lines. The susceptibility of certain minority groups to COVID-19 has only made these disparities more evident. The sad truth is that large segments of the population do not have access to quality medical care. Many people argue that only a complete overhaul of the current healthcare system can address these inequalities. As it stands, current obstacles to care include:
- Lack of financial resources, including adequate insurance
- Language barriers in communicating with healthcare workers
- A lack of facilities in remote geographic areas
- Healthcare providers who do not understand cultural practices and religious traditions
Substance Abuse and Addiction
Substance abuse is not a new problem. It was included as part of the Healthy People 2020 and 2030 priority lists. While it has been around for generations, the increased availability and dangerous potency of synthetic drugs have turned it into a crisis. While public health efforts need to focus on preventing substance use disorders, including drug and alcohol abuse, that is not enough. They also must increase the rate at which those already living with addiction receive care for their condition. Public health professionals recognize that addiction is a disease. Prevention efforts at the school and community level can increase awareness of it while also removing the stigma often associated with a diagnosis.
Even though America is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, its wealth is not evenly distributed. Millions of Americans face food insecurity — meaning they do not have access to enough food for every household member to live a healthy and active life. Massive layoffs this year and the loss of free meals previously provided by school systems exacerbated the problem for many families with young children. This is a serious public health problem because, without adequate nutrition, health, and educational outcomes decline.
Long-Term Effects of Violence
More people have become aware of the field of public health in 2020, in large part due to the ongoing pandemic. While it is not a new area, it does have to be looked at in the context of time and place. To get a career overview and consider a public health nursing career is also to consider how social upheaval and ongoing exposure to violence will impact mental and physical health. According to the National Institute of Health, some of the long- and short-term effects include:
- Disruption of sleep patterns
Changes in cognitive function
- Increased rates of depression
- Dissociation, or a disconnect with your surroundings, friends, and family
- The tendency to inflict self-harm or engage in other destructive behavior
There is increasing awareness of health as a public issue. Many people face barriers to healthy living that are beyond their control. How Americans choose to face and overcome those barriers will define the state of public health in the country for future generations.