Video Transcript: What Is Health Equity, and Why Does It Matter?

Donald Berwick, MD, Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of IHI
David R. Williams, PhD, MPH, Professor of Public Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

BERWICK: Let’s start with a question. So, what does health equity mean to you, and why is it important?

WILLIAMS: Health equity is a term we often use in the United States, as well as the terms “health disparities” or “health inequities.” So there’s lots of different terms used. But basically, they describe differences in health that are unfair and unjust.

There are some differences in health that occur, that naturally occur, that would be expected to occur. But it’s those differences that are unacceptable because they are unfair and unjust.

BERWICK: Can you personalize that for a minute, a story or an episode or something that gives us a sense of why this hits home?

WILLIAMS: I remember, many years ago, attending the funeral of a good college friend of mine whose wife, an African-American woman, had just died of breast cancer. And she was 33 years old. Breast cancer typically for most Americans is a post-menopausal condition. And her experience just typifies that of so many African-Americans who get a very aggressive type of breast cancer at a very young age.

I’ll tell you a second experience. One has to do with my own mother, who was receiving treatment, and because of poor treatment in a health care facility had a stroke. They had failed. She was receiving her medication through a patch, and a nurse had failed to change the patch. And so she had gone days without her medication and ended up having a stroke, which left her with significant disabilities. So that was another example, because there’s research to suggest that it’s not just her, but minorities receive poorer quality care, less intensive care.