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Minal R. Patel Talks Inequity in Healthcare, ‘Unequal Treatment,’ and Goals for Learners of her new Online Course

Hannah Triester, Communications Fellow

Dr. Minal R. Patel is an associate professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education and a dual Michigan graduate. Her extensive research is focused on healthcare and healthcare delivery, and how to increase access to services in economically disadvantaged communities, and those experiencing economic burden from disease. She is interested both in empowering individuals to navigate complex healthcare delivery systems and illuminating social and economic contexts for practitioners who serve marginalized populations. She recently developed the “Addressing Racial Health Inequity in Healthcare” online specialization as a tool to achieve both priorities.

Patel recently sat down with the Center for Academic Innovation to talk about why she created this brand new MOOC series, her academic research, and everything she hopes learners will take away from the three courses.

As Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, how did you decide that some lessons were better taught online than in the classroom? What else inspired you to develop the “Addressing Racial Health Inequity in Healthcare” specialization with the Center for Academic Innovation?

Minal Patel
Minal Patel, Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education.

The seminal report from the National Academy of Medicine ‘Unequal Treatment’ provided one of the first comprehensive examinations of racial/ethnic inequities in healthcare, and was the impetus for efforts in healthcare delivery and policy to mitigate these inequities. However, inequities and covert forms of racism continue to persist in healthcare delivery. Further, the knowledge uncovered in this report and supported by a large body of work in the social sciences remains largely unexposed to the wide range of trainees who will do direct patient care in healthcare delivery systems, and essentially a lot of people who work directly within healthcare delivery or peripherally serve healthcare delivery. More comprehensive training in racial inequities in healthcare through this course series would help a larger group of people gain background knowledge to further innovation, implementation, and refinement in achieving population health goals in mitigating health inequities, especially in the context of healthcare. Given that the U.S. population and other countries such as the UK and Australia are rapidly becoming increasingly diverse over time, our systems, especially healthcare delivery, will need to be equipped to care for and provide services to a more diverse population.

The appetite for such a MOOC series is timely. Recent events have once again put a spotlight on 400+ years of racism that has deeply entrenched our everyday structures, notably healthcare delivery. Our current pandemic has dramatically unveiled that racial/ethnic healthcare disparities continue to thrive, and we have not done enough to provide a skillset to learners who have significant potential to change this system towards equity. A deeper education to a broad audience is therefore necessary. 

What sorts of learners is the specialization meant for?

  • Potential applicants to health professional and health sciences training programs
  • Students and trainees at all levels in health professional training programs
  • Practicing healthcare professionals that would like to better serve a diverse patient population and promote and support a diverse healthcare workforce
  • Practicing healthcare professionals mandated to do any sort of continuing education on racial inequities in healthcare
  • Internationally-trained healthcare professionals or trainees interested in working in or practicing in healthcare in the U.S.
  • Prospective students, current students, trainees, and professionals who work in healthcare or a field or organization that serves or collaborates with healthcare
  • Workers and professionals at all levels who work within healthcare
  • General public interested in racial inequity as it pertains to healthcare

Enroll Now | Addressing Racial Health Inequity in Healthcare

How has your research at U-M informed the course content in this specialization? 

My research program focuses on the development and evaluation of behavioral interventions that focus on improving individuals’ capacity to access complex healthcare delivery systems, affordable healthcare, and management of chronic disease. Emphases of my work include medical financial burden, team-based care, health and financial literacy, and populations with a long history of health disparities. I have led studies focused on improving health insurance literacy in economically disadvantaged communities, screening and addressing unmet social needs in clinical settings, and healthcare provider training in implementing guideline-based care. I have over a decade of experience working with African American, Latino, and Arab American communities in the local region. I also serve on the evaluation team of Michigan’s expanded Medicaid program. My work is primarily situated in a broad range of healthcare and healthcare delivery settings. 

How are the three courses designed for different types of practitioners in the healthcare field? What do you hope all of these groups will take away from the specialization?

My goal as I designed the courses was to give learners a deeper and comprehensive understanding of how racial inequity persists in healthcare. Racial inequity that exists in healthcare was borne out of the racial inequity that has persisted throughout U.S. history. In course one, we needed to start with the building blocks of what race and racism actually are, the origins of healthcare and healthcare access, and how racism in America and healthcare intersected. This then makes it a little more clear for a learner to understand the main drivers of racial inequities. And we need to understand the main drivers in order to better pinpoint where we need to concentrate our efforts to achieve racial equity in healthcare. 

I hope that anyone taking this specialization will walk away with:

  • Credible information and being more informed
  • Knowledge of how racial healthcare inequities impact everyone from a macro to micro lens
  • More empathy for the experiences of those belonging to marginalized communities or identities
  • A more nuanced understanding of how race, health, the social environment, and policies all intersect 
  • An understanding of connections between various disciplines when it comes to racial inequity in healthcare
  • The ability to question and challenge current systems and act

For those with a purpose-driven mission to work towards racial health equity, I hope this series provides them with some inspiration from those in our history who started and elevated this work.

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