Health inequalities are differences in health between certain groups. Examples can be exposure to risk factors, presence of diseases and mortality rates. Health inequity is a type of health inequality that is based on differences occurring on a systemic level that are unjust and avoidable. Examples of these groups are people of lower socioeconomic status, minority groups or women. These differences can result in certain groups to become more vulnerable to worse health or become exposed to greater health risks compared to other advantaged groups.
Health inequalities and health inequities due to sociodemographic factors have been vastly documented in public health research. Factors such as income, race, education and gender can be attributed to approximately 50% of our physical and mental health. Categorizing data by these factors can help identify population groups that are at high risk for developing certain conditions.
Before starting any data collection, it is important to recognize “why are we collecting this data?” and “how are we going to use this data?”. Forming the answers to these questions requires having a clear vision (the objective for collecting this data), measurable outcomes (deliverables that can identify and evaluate methods to ensure goals are being met) and a proposed timeline. Once these goals have been decided, transitioning from data collection to practice can be executed in four steps: collect, identify & report, improve and evaluate.
Collect: The collection of sociodemographic data will lay the foundation for an evidence-based approach for providing equitable, efficient, and higher quality of care.
Identify and Report: The data will then be extracted and analyzed to report any trends or inequalities in health and/or health outcomes based on sociodemographic factors.
Improve: Once these inequalities have been identified, government officials and other decision makers will be able to take appropriate steps to develop programs or policies for target population groups.
Evaluate: Data collection and suggested programs are continuously evaluated to ensure quality as well as assess the effectiveness of the proposed solutions.
Collecting sociodemographic data allows us to look at the distribution of specific risk factors (e.g. smoking, substance use, obesity, etc.) in certain groups to identify health trends and predict or discover emerging health problems. In addition, to identifying the types of health problems, this data will also allow us to know the severity of these problems within the target population. Public health officials, policymakers and other decision makers would be able to gain insight into existing gaps in our current health system when it comes to accessing healthcare or public health programs. Once these gaps are identified, it will become easier to know what actions are needed to tailor our policies and interventions to help those most affected. Different groups will have different needs for health promotion, treatment and health prevention and management. Collecting this data gives us the ability to identify, track and monitor health inequalities which can serve as a stepping stone to provide equitable access and a higher quality of care. Thus, we can effectively allocate resources and improve health outcomes in the overall population.