The American health care system has been called many things, but “simple” isn’t usually one of them.
At the University of Georgia, Bernadette Heckman is tackling one of the most complicated aspects of the health care industry: inequality in care and treatment. The associate professor of counseling psychology first noticed disparities in access to care during her work in clinical settings.
As her clientele became more diverse, she realized that most academic literature on chronic pain focused on majority populations, with little insight into groups who are often socially and economically marginalized and underserved. And those groups were the ones disproportionately suffering from chronic pain, headaches, HIV/AIDS and other challenging health conditions.
They’re also the least likely to get treatment for their health problems.
“I was already interested in multiculturalism and social justice,” Heckman says. “When I began my research, I started identifying disparities in headache treatment and outcomes and realized this was an overlooked area of research.”
Heckman began working with chronic migraine patients, meaning they experienced severe headaches 15 days or more per month. She discovered that not only were African Americans having more frequent headaches than their white American counterparts, but they were also more highly disabled by their headaches and less likely to stay in treatment.