Throughout my ACC presidency, I focused on bringing attention to health disparities and finding solutions to ensure all patients receive the cardiovascular care they deserve. While my presidential term has come to a close, I am determined to continue advocating for the underserved.
As part of National Minority Health Month, I joined colleagues and lawmakers in Washington, DC, last week at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center for the Democratic Forum on Achieving Health Equity: The Path Forward. I was honored to be invited by the House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats in partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (collectively known as the Congressional Tri-Caucus) to speak on a panel titled, “Examining Disparities Across the Continuum of Care through the Lens of Heart Disease.”
One glance at this interactive map and it’s clear there are significant health disparities across the country. CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) was spot on when he said, “Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke are some of the most debilitating diseases to disproportionately impact minority communities. This month, we recognize the importance of addressing health inequities in minority and underserved communities. Healthier communities mean lower health costs and a more productive America.”
Recognizing that cardiovascular disease, the # 1 killer, disproportionally impacts racial and ethnic minorities, the Committee and the Tri-Caucus brought together experts from across the health care spectrum, including Janet S. Wright, MD, FACC, executive director of Million Hearts, and Cara James, PhD, director of the Office of Minority Health at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to weigh in how we can work together within the medical community to close gaps in care.
In addition to dedicating an entire panel to the topic of cardiovascular health, George A. Mensah, MD, FACC, acting director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, and Paul Underwood, MD, FACC, medical director of clinical interventional cardiology at Boston Scientific, provided cardiology’s perspective during a panel discussion on “Transforming Medical Research to Meet the Needs of a Diverse Population.”
We certainly can’t improve the quality of care for underserved groups alone, but cardiology must play a pivotal role in shaping the future of our nation’s health. Population health, an integral part of the College’s Strategic Plan, is at a complex intersection between an increasingly diverse population, an evolving health care system, traditional public health and elaborate social policies. Through its population health and prevention efforts, the ACC is engaging partners and pursuing global cardiovascular-related objectives, supporting members to improve the health of populations, and encouraging cardiovascular team-facilitated patient education.
There is no magic formula for removing disparities from our health care system, but openly discussing the issues is a step in the right direction. We will discuss the need for program development and incentives for screening, prevention and access for those who have disproportionately higher levels of illness. Such programs have the potential to reduce illness, mortality and health care costs.