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5 Vulnerable Populations in Healthcare

Laura Joszt
For vulnerable populations, their health and healthcare issues may be exacerbated by social factors. Here are just 5 vulnerable populations who experience greater risk factors, worse access to care, and increased morbidity and mortality compared with the general population.
In the United States, significant disparities exist in healthcare for vulnerable populations. There are a number of groups that are considered vulnerable populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, the economically disadvantaged, and those with chronic health conditions.

For vulnerable populations, their health and healthcare issues may be exacerbated by social factors. Here are just 5 vulnerable populations who experience greater risk factors, worse access to care, and increased morbidity and mortality compared with the general population.

1. Chronically ill and disabled
People with chronic diseases are at risk of poor health outcomes and they, obviously, consume more healthcare dollars than healthy individuals. The chronically ill are twice as likely to report poor health days as the general population.

Disabled individuals, like the chronically ill, usually have many interactions with the health system, but, due to their disability, they may have difficulty accessing care. The chronically ill and the disabled may face special challenges in obtaining services.

2. Low-income and/or homeless individuals
In general, low-income individuals are more likely to have chronic illnesses, and the impact of those illnesses can be more severe. People with low incomes are also disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities. Being low-income, they may be less likely to have coverage and, as a result, have less interaction with the healthcare system, explained Pamela Riley, MD, MPH, vice president of delivery system reform at The Commonwealth Fund.

People with lower incomes are also more likely to have co-occurring conditions—meaning they might have behavioral health issues, such as depression or substance use problems, as well as chronic medical conditions like obesity or diabetes.

Since people experiencing homelessness may not have a safe place to stay, they are at an increased risk for adverse health-related outcomes. In 2017, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that almost 554,000 people in the country were homeless on a single night. These individuals are less likely to have a regular source of care and more likely to forgo care. In addition, it’s difficult to reach homeless individuals because they can often feel stigmatized or unwelcome, according to a 2013 study in The American Journal of Public Health.

3. Certain geographical communities
Americans living in rural areas often have worse health than the general population. The reason for this disparity is that rural populations experience geographic isolation, have a lower socioeconomic status, have limited job opportunities, and tend to be older.

Exacerbating these issues in rural communities is the fact that this population has trouble accessing care. The New York Times reported that people in rural America, especially pregnant women, are far from care. In addition to the fact that 85 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, fewer than half of rural counties have a hospital offering obstetric care.



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