Nehad Soloman, MD: Addressing Health Disparities in Rheumatology

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Nehad Soloman, MD, believes acknowledging the cultural and social dynamics impacting patients' healthcare decisions and establishing a personal connection with patients can help overcome initial barriers to care.

In an interview with HCPLive Rheumatology, Soloman, a rheumatologist at Arizona Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates, explained the role social determinants of health play in creating and perpetuating health disparities in rheumatology.

“Health disparities encompass various aspects, including socioeconomic status, geographical location, healthcare accessibility, health insurance coverage, and genetic factors,” Soloman said. “For example, in areas like Phoenix, individuals of African American or Hispanic descent may face barriers, whether cultural or access-related, to seeking medical care, including rheumatology services.”

He explained some patients may avoid medical care due to the fear of receiving a diagnosis. Additionally, those with limited healthcare access, such as individuals without insurance or those with high deductibles, may struggle to see a rheumatologist or access treatment. The evolving landscape of healthcare policies has also introduced challenges, such as high deductibles, affecting people's ability to afford treatments.

Additionally, certain rheumatic diseases, including gout and lupus, disproportionately affect specific populations.

“Misconceptions about diseases like lupus can contribute to health disparities, particularly in minority populations,” Soloman said. “There's a perception lupus is a type of cancer or a death sentence, which can deter individuals from seeking medical care. Overcoming these misconceptions and educating the African American and Hispanic communities, where lupus is more prevalent, is crucial.

The lack of newer lupus therapies over the past 50 years has also hindered progress. However, recent advancements have introduced new treatment options, and there is ongoing research and development. Soloman emphasized lupus, if detected early and treated aggressively, is not a terminal disease and can be effectively managed.

“To reduce health disparities in rheumatology, it's crucial for healthcare providers to cultivate empathy and understanding,” Solomon concluded. “They should acknowledge the cultural and social dynamics which impact patients' healthcare decisions and experiences. Establishing a personal connection with patients and acknowledging their unique backgrounds can help overcome initial barriers to care.”

This transcript was edited for clarity.

Soloman is associated with the Arthritis Foundation, Midwestern University, and Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine.