What is Inclusive Health Care?


What is Inclusive Health Care?

April 7, 2022
A woman runs through a series of sculptural circles outside.

While most are likely familiar with the phrase, “first do no harm,” there is so much more to treating people in a welcoming and supportive way than not harming them. Regardless of someone’s race or ethnicity, their sexual orientation or gender identity, their age or religion, and any physical or intellectual disabilities they may have, everyone deserves care that makes them feel as though they are supported, and their best interests are at the heart of the care they receive. 

Inclusive health care centers on the idea that by removing barriers, making accommodations, and deliberately providing informed and sensitive care—care that often involves people who often face the largest health disparities—we can improve the health outcomes for all people. 

What does care that excludes people look like?

Research shows that a person’s health is directly impacted by their income, race, sexual orientation, and other factors outside of their control. Moreover, those who face the largest barriers to receiving care are often those with the greatest needs. Care that is not inclusive of all people can take many forms, but some of the more common barriers are: 

  • Care that’s too expensive or provided without communicating the potential or estimated cost beforehand. 
  • Care that assumes someone’s gender identity, sexual orientation, living situation, immigration status, or desires among many other traits. 
  • Care that is based on stigma, stereotypes, or misconceptions. 
  • Care delivered in a language a person does not speak or using language someone cannot understand without any options for translation or attempt to bridge the understanding gap. 
  • Care that cannot be accessed due to physical barriers. 
  • Care that relies on unfamiliar or inaccessible technology.
  • Care that does not respect and treat the whole person (i.e., excludes mental health concerns from physical decisions, does not account for side effects, or does not reflect cultural sensitivities).

What does inclusive care look like?

There is no one formula that that makes care fully inclusive for everyone. It’s important for inclusive care to be sustainable. That is, everyone involved needs to be willing to revaluate and adapt as necessary. Four hallmarks of inclusive care include: 

Culture of inclusion: Inclusive care should be built into the culture of an organization. All staff—not just those with MDs, but anyone who interacts with patients—should understand the types of common barriers faced by people. Staff should receive regular training to ensure that they do not become yet another challenge for patients to overcome. Inclusive care should begin with the very first interaction with a patient.  A sustainable culture of inclusion is not a box to check, but a way of providing the best care for everyone who enters the space. 

Welcoming spaces: Inclusive care has physical spaces are that accessible to people of all abilities. They include materials (clinical and logistical) in the languages spoken by patients. The staff working in inclusive spaces should reflect the same types of diverse groups of people seeking care. 

Accessible materials: Inclusive care extends beyond the physical space occupied to the materials available for patients. Inclusive materials may have large print, be available in multiple languages, use appropriate language (inclusive of all genders and sexual orientations), and be culturally sensitive. 

Values all patients: Inclusive care includes patients in the decision-making process and takes patients concerns into account. Whenever possible those providing care should work alongside patients at their educational or intellectual level and with their means and access in mind. 

With inclusive health care everyone wins. 

Our health, reproductive and otherwise, is intertwined in every aspect of all our lives. When the health care environment feels inclusive for patients whether they are part of a minority group or not, everyone wins.

Inclusive health care isn’t meant to highlight the differences between people, but to recognize that we are all individuals with individual needs. The right care for one person will not necessarily be the right care for another even if they share the same sexual orientation or skin color. Working towards equality and inclusion throughout the health continuum will ensure that all people receive the best care possible that will allow them to make informed decisions that align with their present intentions and future desires.