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Humanisation of medicine and equality in access to health care

27 May 2024

Equal access to healthcare is the cornerstone of an equitable medical system and a key determinant of public health. Ensuring that everyone, regardless of their economic status, place of residence or ethnicity, has access to necessary medical care is not only a moral imperative, but also a practical necessity for improving the overall health of society.

Why is equal access important?

  • Improving public health: Equal access to healthcare allows for earlier diagnosis and treatment of diseases, resulting in better health outcomes at the population level. This prevents the spread of infectious diseases and reduces the burden on the health system.
  • Reducing health inequalities: Inequalities in access to health care often reflect and exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities. Ensuring equal access helps to reduce these disparities, improving the health of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups.
  • Economic growth: Investing in public health by ensuring equal access to medical care not only improves the quality of life of citizens, but also contributes to economic growth. A healthier population means higher productivity, less expenditure on chronic disease management and fewer working days lost due to illness.
  • Ethics and human rights: Equal access to health care is also an ethical and human rights issue. Every person has the right to the highest possible standard of health, which includes access to quality medical services without discrimination.

Challenges in ensuring equal access

The realisation of equal access to healthcare faces a number of challenges, including budgetary constraints, shortages of health personnel, geographical and cultural barriers, and systemic inequalities in access to resources. To overcome these obstacles, integrated policies, investments in healthcare infrastructure and technological innovations are needed that can facilitate access to care for all segments of society.

Barriers to equal access to health care

Equal access to healthcare is a key element of health equity, but many barriers stand in the way of its realisation. These barriers can have different origins and affect different groups of people, making it difficult for them to access essential health services. It is worth looking at the main categories of these barriers:

Economic barriers are one of the most serious obstacles to equal access to health care. The high cost of treatment, lack of health insurance and limited availability of financial assistance programmes can result in many people being unable to access medical services or fearing the costs associated with treatment. Economic barriers particularly affect lower-income and homeless people.

Geographical barriers are also a significant problem. People living in rural areas, remote from medical facilities or in regions with limited transport infrastructure may find it difficult to access healthcare. This can lead to delayed diagnoses, inappropriate treatment and poorer health outcomes.

Social barriers are often due to prejudice, discrimination or lack of awareness among health professionals. People belonging to marginalised groups, such as LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities or people with different cultural beliefs, may experience prejudice or lack of understanding from healthcare professionals, which affects the quality and accessibility of care.

Lack of health education is another barrier that can affect equal access to health care. People who are unaware of their health rights, do not understand the importance of prevention or do not know how to use the health system may make inappropriate use of the services available to them or delay seeking help.

The role of the humanisation of medicine in ensuring equal access to health care

The humanisation of medicine is a key pillar in the transformation of healthcare, which aims to provide equal access to health services and promote health equity. This approach is based on values such as empathy, respect, understanding and caring for the patient as an individual, not just as a patient with a diagnosis. Why is this important?

An individualised approach to the patient is the foundation of the humanisation of medicine. Each patient is treated as a unique individual with individual needs, concerns and life history. Doctors and medical staff who approach the patient as a person are more likely to tailor care to these individual needs. This is extremely important for patients with different levels of language skills, cultural beliefs, disabilities or health insurance problems. A personalised approach allows care to be more effectively broken down and tailored to the specific needs of the patient.

Humanising medicine is also a key tool in the fight against prejudice and discrimination in healthcare. It promotes equality and respect towards all patients, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity or social status. This ensures that patients are not excluded or overlooked due to social or cultural factors, which is a key step towards ensuring equal access to healthcare.

In a humanistic approach, open dialogue and collaboration between patient and doctor are of paramount importance. This enables patients to actively participate in the treatment process, express their concerns and preferences and make decisions about their healthcare together. This collaboration is crucial for patients who may find it difficult to access care due to a lack of knowledge or unawareness about their health needs.

The humanisation of medicine also encourages doctors and medical staff to understand the patient's broader life context, including social, economic and psychological aspects. This helps to identify potential barriers to accessing healthcare and adapt treatment plans to take these aspects into account. For example, a patient with financial difficulties may require alternative solutions, such as financial assistance programmes.

Finally, the humanisation of medicine emphasises long-term care, which is crucial especially for patients with chronic diseases or who need continuous care. Providing continuous care, monitoring patients' health status and preventing complications can help ensure equal access to healthcare and promote health equity.