Advancing Solutions and Addressing Cultural Barriers to Prevent and Better Manage Chronic Disease

September 26, 2012

Last Friday, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD), in collaboration with WellPoint, proudly participated in the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 2012 Health Braintrust, an in-depth discussion on effective programs and approaches for addressing health inequities that contribute to the disproportionate impact chronic disease has on communities of color. 

PFCD Chairman, Ken Thorpe served as moderator for the panel of esteemed experts. The panel, titled “Chronic Diseases and Health Equity Nearly a Decade After the IOM Unequal Treatment Report: How Far Have We Come? How Much More Must We Do?” covered a variety of topics, including how health care providers and patients can overcome cultural, political, and social barriers in order to improve chronic health outcomes among minority groups.

Throughout the session, the panel was continuously engaged in a lively discussion with the importance of data collection and sharing on health disparities, providing cultural training sessions to physicians, and encouraging two-way communication between patients and their physicians being particularly popular topics of interest.

“Chronic disease is very real, and it is very personal,” said Dr. Warren Jones, former executive director of the Mississippi Institute for the Improvement of Geographic Minority Health. It was this reasoning, he said, that should motivate family and friends to get each other screened for chronic diseases, as well as to encourage routine follow-ups.

Dr. Millicent Gorham of National Black Nurses Association, Inc. also stressed the important role that nurses play among aging minority populations. “Baby boomers are falling into the stages of having chronic disease, and they need great nurses to help them manage these diseases,” she said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, African Americans and Hispanics are twice as likely to have diabetes compared to their Caucasian, non-Hispanic counterparts. Many minority Americans are often less able to obtain the care they need to manage chronic illnesses due to poverty, lack of access to health care, cultural attitudes and behaviors which are barriers to preventive and diabetes management care for these individuals.

“How do we affect policy change?” asked Grace Ting, director of health services at WellPoint, Inc. “By making it personal.” Similar sentiments were expressed by the other panelists as well, who largely agreed that an ongoing discussion about moving past politics to understand health policies is crucial to improving minority health outcomes.

Additional panel participants were Congresswoman Dr. Donna Christensen, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’ Health Braintrust; Dr. Marjorie Innocent, vice president for programs and policy for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; and Ikenna Okezie, division vice president of DaVita.

Audience members were given an opportunity to ask questions and applauded the panelists for their recognition of the disparities that exist in the nation’s current health care trends and policies. Although the focus of the briefing was centered on chronic illnesses among minority groups, several members of the audience were quick to voice that policy leaders and industry experts should also acknowledge the importance of other health issues – such as oral hygiene and mental wellness –when establishing health care policies.

Health care is not one size fits all. This event was another positive stepping stone in expanding the dialogue and sharing solutions and best practices. By engaging Americans from all demographics and geographies and encouraging them to take charge of their own health, PFCD continues its work to motivate change and make a difference in the fight against chronic disease.