Nurse talking with a mother and daughter

It is disheartening to realize that in this day and age, there are still disparities in healthcare. And the reality is that healthcare inequality exists worldwide, as well as in the United States. Healthcare inequality defined refers to unfair systematic differences in the health status of various populations (World Health Organization, 2018). These inequalities are based on multiple factors, such as socioeconomic, political, and environmental conditions (National Academies of Sciences et al., 2017; World Health Organization, 2018). When inequalities exist, there are unfair health outcomes, and certain groups are unable to achieve optimal health.

Populations that are most impacted include those in low socioeconomic status, poor environmental conditions, individuals with limited access to health services, and vulnerable populations. In countries where there are individual costs for healthcare, such as the United States, economic inequality is common. Even with recent changes, the amount of people who are uninsured or underinsured continues to be high. It is estimated that those who are poor live 10-15 years less than those who have money (Dickman et al., 2017; National Academies of Sciences et al., 2017).

Minorities are also at high risk for healthcare inequality, with factors including race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Discrimination and bias, whether intentional or unknowingly present, can cause discrepancies in the healthcare management of minorities (National Academies of Sciences et al., 2017).

The first step toward reducing healthcare inequality is to be aware that the issue exists. Access to healthcare should be viewed as a fundamental right. Increasing the availability of resources in underserved areas can be effective. Providing professional development and tools for the healthcare team can improve the care given to at-risk populations. Additionally, the recruitment of healthcare professionals who represent minorities provides an opportunity for a deeper understanding of the various population needs (Dickman et al., 2017; National Academies of Sciences, et al., 2017).

Healthcare inequality is a worldwide concern. Vulnerable populations often cannot afford to pay the individual costs associated with healthcare and experience poorer clinical outcomes. These inequalities may contribute to a shorter lifespan for members of vulnerable populations.


Dickman, S., Himmelstein, D., & Woolhandler, S. (2017). Inequality and the health-care system in the USA. Lancet, 289, 1431-1441.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, and the Committee on Community-Based Solutions to Promote Health Equity in the United States. (2017). Communities in action: Pathways to health equity.  World Health Organization. (2018). Health inequities and their causes