Health disparities experts tackle pressing questions

Heather Woolwine

Dec.2, 2011

Health disparities experts tackle pressing questions

Medical, policy specialists gather to discuss new ideas, collaborations

CHARLESTON -- Every person deserves to be as healthy as possible. Unfortunately, not every person has this opportunity. Where people live, how much money they make, personal behaviors and ethnicity impact individual health beyond the usual focus on access to care or genetic predispositions.

Through the continued efforts of a large group of medical and policy experts, The Fifth Annual National Conference on Health Disparities provided participants a forum to discuss systematic and evidence-based ways to address higher exposure to health threats and worse health outcomes for disparate communities across the country. This year's conference was held at the Charleston Marriott Hotel from Nov. 30 through Dec. 3.

Participants focused on ways to target disparities through policies and programs which actively address social determinants. Those social determinants include lack of insurance coverage or financial resources; legal barriers; structural barriers (ex: transportation); scarcity of providers; linguistic barriers and lack of health literacy; age; and lack of health care workforce diversity. "If we are serious about reducing health disparities, then we must focus on and address these social determinants, " said David Rivers, conference organizer and MUSC public information and outreach director.

On Dec. 1, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius addressed members of the media to highlight the conference and tout the gains made regarding health disparities. "Since President Obama took office, we've undertaken the most comprehensive federal agenda to reduce health disparities in history. One of the ways we have done so is through the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which is the most powerful law for reducing health disparities since Medicare and Medicaid," she said.

Conference attendees not only discussed the implications of the Affordable Care Act, but highlighted programs throughout the country that are working to reduce barriers to care for minority populations, thus having an impact on disparities in those areas. MUSC played a large role in providing those examples, as part of the university's mission is dedicated to the reduction of disparities plaguing South Carolina. Congressman Jim Clyburn was eager to welcome the conference back to Charleston and noted, "South Carolina and MUSC are a real epicenter in the fight to reduce health disparities, and are making real progress through the biomedical engineering and pharmaceutical research taking place in the university's new state-of-the-art facilities. Investing in the technology and research of tomorrow will make significant strides in closing the gaps in our health care delivery system."

By collaborating with their colleagues from throughout the country on the same mission to eliminate those barriers affecting minority populations and their health care, MUSC experts continue their front-runner status in tackling the complex issues surrounding disparities in South Carolina. Citing the long-standing history of health disparities in South Carolina, MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg addressed the university's responsibility to reducing and eliminating those gaps. "Through telemedicine, our doctors are reaching out into rural communities to provide specialty care that is otherwise not available to them. We are working on new ways to help educate the public about health issues and to promote healthy lifestyles, and we are conducting research to better understand the causes of health disparities and how they may be eliminated."

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 11,000 employees, including 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.7 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit or