CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I recently had the pleasure of meeting with a number of community leaders in Charleston to discuss how we can work together to better eliminate health-care disparities and to improve quality health-care services across all populations within the state.
West Virginia has some of the highest rates for prevalence and mortality in the nation associated with many chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The state is also challenged with other health risk factors including obesity, physical inactivity and high smoking rates.
Health disparities, or inequalities in the prevalence of disease, health outcomes or access to care when comparing one population to another, are common in West Virginia. They often reflect population differences characterized by race, ethnicity, gender, age or socioeconomic status.
As a health insurer, it's important for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia (Highmark West Virginia) to understand the reasons certain populations do not seek health care -- even when they have health insurance. For example, Highmark was able to identify a need for a flu vaccine outreach to African-American members, age 50 or older, in West Virginia and Pennsylvania through data collection. Through a mailing outreach educating this population on the importance of obtaining a flu vaccine, Highmark noted that the claims rate for flu shots for the 2012 flu season improved from 11.8 percent to 23.2 percent among African-American members.
Clearly, we have to garner a better understanding of these barriers to make sure we are moving in the right direction and working on the right things.
Community forums, such as the one held in Charleston, are valuable in identifying barriers and root causes of health-care disparities as well as prioritizing opportunities for the improvement of culturally and linguistically appropriate care to our members. It also allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions and Highmark West Virginia's activities related to eliminating these health disparities.
It is apparent that the Charleston community is focused on providing quality health care to its diverse population. Through the forum, I was able to gain valuable insights on pressing health issues in West Virginia such as infant health, the obesity epidemic and barriers pertaining to multi-channel outreach efforts that might involve the use of cellular phones and computers. Cellular phone service, as well as lack of computer access in the home, may still present very real barriers for some.
This information will help to assist Highmark West Virginia in its goals, and as part of its overall mission, to achieve health equity through targeted programs that improve health and wellness, improve health-care costs, and provide quality health-care services to all.
Through collaboration with community partnerships, health-care providers and internal staff, we can develop strategies to reduce health-care disparities and continue to work toward achieving health equity for our clients, members and providers.
Johnson is the medical director of Highmark's Health Equity and Quality Services.