What is Health Equity?

Many people find that they start behind and stay behind because of social circumstances that are beyond their control. Health equity is a way of thinking about how to mitigate those situations so that people can actually achieve their optimal state of health and well-being.

Health inequities are often discussed through the lens of race/ethnicity. However, both unequal treatment (health care disparities) and unequal outcomes (health disparities) can occur across many dimensions including socioeconomic status, age, geography (neighborhood), gender, disability status, or sexual orientation.1Foundation KF. Disparities in Health and Health Care: Five Key Questions and Answers | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2012;2015.2Nelson AR, Smedley BD, Stith AY. Unequal Treatment:: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care (full printed version). National Academies Press; 2002.

To achieve equity in health, we must ensure we deliver the same high-quality care to all patients but recognize that we may have to customize our services and address factors outside of the health care system to best meet the needs of all patient populations. This means working to remove barriers to health that stem from structural inequalities rooted in our society, transforming systems of care to be responsive to individual needs, and addressing individual and institutional bias that impact health care delivery.

Why Advance Health Equity?

Addressing health equity is critical to helping all people achieve their best health and quality of life. Advancing equity will improve the health of our society, thereby increasing productivity and reducing health care costs.

Where to Start to Advance Equity

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are impacting equity. Any effort that improves the quality, safety, or experience of health care delivery for patients or the overall health of a population can result in one of three equity outcomes. If a baseline disparity or difference in care quality or health outcomes between two populations exist, any performance improvement intervention may either widen that disparity, sustain that disparity, or reduce/eliminate that disparity.

Understanding this concept and ensuring we measure differences by populations before and after any intervention is paramount to advancing equity.

Rethinking Quality with an Equity Lens

Marginalized group
Non-marginalized group

Disparities Widen

Public health campaigns
Smoking cessation
Obesity prevention

Reduction in Breast Cancer mortality

Disparities Sustained

Vast majority of QI interventions

Primary care redesign

Disparities Reduced/

Iodized salt

Pediatric injury prevention
Default water heater setting

Aspirin for Heart Attacks in Hospitals

Source: Aysola et. al, Academic Medicine, 2018

“Health equity is about providing the right care, for the right patient, with the right set of providers at the right time.”

– Eve Higginbotham, SM, MD, Vice Dean for Inclusion and Diversity of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

To learn more about what we are <br />doing and how to advance equity:

What You Can Do

Recognize and understand why different populations experience differences in health care quality and work to minimize their impact.

Recognize and understand why different populations experience differences in health outcomes and learn more about how to advance equity.

Key Partnerships