The medical field has learned a lot of painful lessons from the COVID-19 outbreak, and one of the most striking is just how many racial and social barriers still exist that prevent many people from receiving necessary health care. If we're to create a genuinely healthy society, advancing health equity is a must. Quality health care needs to be available to everyone, not just the well-off.
Achieving this goal may even require re-thinking how medical research is conducted. More nuanced and socially aware research is called for, to ensure that under-served, underprivileged, or otherwise marginalized communities aren't left behind.
1 - Randomized control trials shouldn't be the only research tool
Yes, randomized trials with strong controls are very useful, and we certainly aren't saying they should go away. However, they also shouldn't be the only tool in the research toolbox. It's too easy for randomized groups to overlook specific communities, ethnicities, etc., which have their own specialized issues that are lost in large group studies.
There should be a stronger emphasis on community-based research, and mixed methodologies that don't assume that all people are inherently interchangeable. It's a nice idea, but as we've seen with COVID-19, it's not the reality.
2 - More direct community and individual participation is called for
Alongside point 1, it's also important to get more buy-in from local communities when researching their health challenges. "Anecdotes are not data" is another of those abstract research ideas that sounds better on paper than in reality. Medical researchers should be welcoming of anecdotes, lived experiences, and other data points which would be obscured in broader surveys or research groups.
This is also critical from a communications standpoint. Numerous communities continue to be skeptical of medical research, or about matters such as vaccination, due to local individualized socio-economic issues. These communication barriers can only be overcome with better outreach and participation from community leaders.
3 - Racial data needs to be disaggregated
There's a tendency, especially in western medical research, to group races/ethnicities together under extremely large umbrellas such as "Hispanic" or "Asian." This also contributes to the problem of marginalized communities remaining marginal and inhibits the goal of advancing health equity. Research data should be more nuanced and complicated, while researchers resist the urge to lump highly different groups of people into overly large boxes.
Socially Determined is working towards advancing health equity by working directly with governments and medical providers to provide ethical and responsible pathways towards medical services. Click here to learn more about us.