4 posts A vulnerable population is a group of people who need special considerations in regard to their health and overall welfare (Falkner, 2018).Vulnerable populations are individuals who are not able to advocate for themselves due to physical, cognitive or mental disability, emotionally unstable people, children and incarcerated individuals.These populations usually have several social determinants of health(SDOH) that contribute to their vulnerability.These SDOH can include poverty, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and no insurance or the underinsured.

Introduction:

A vulnerable population refers to a group of individuals who require particular attention and support in terms of their health and overall well-being (Falkner, 2018). This population encompasses individuals who are unable to advocate for themselves due to various factors, such as physical disabilities, cognitive impairments, mental health conditions, emotional instability, children, and incarcerated individuals. Vulnerable populations often face multiple social determinants of health (SDOH) that contribute to their vulnerability. These SDOH include factors such as poverty, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and lack of insurance or being underinsured.

Vulnerability and its Determinants:

To understand vulnerable populations, it is essential to define vulnerability. Vulnerability refers to a higher likelihood of experiencing negative health outcomes and limited access to necessary resources and support networks due to various individual and systemic factors (Kleinman, Eisenberg, & Good, 2006; Mayer, 2018). Vulnerability can stem from structural, economic, environmental, and social determinants. These determinants contribute to the increased risk of adverse health outcomes and reduced access to healthcare services.

Social Determinants of Health:

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the conditions in which individuals are born, grow, live, work, and age that shape their health outcomes and experiences (World Health Organization, 2018). These determinants are influenced by the distribution of money, power, and resources at the global, national, and local levels. SDOH significantly impact an individual’s overall well-being and can exacerbate or mitigate their vulnerability. In the case of vulnerable populations, these determinants often contribute to their heightened susceptibility to health disparities.

Poverty and Socioeconomic Status:

One significant social determinant of health that affects vulnerable populations is poverty and socioeconomic status. Poverty refers to a lack of essential resources needed to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Individuals living in poverty often face limited access to education, employment opportunities, and healthcare services, leading to poorer health outcomes and increased vulnerability (Braveman et al., 2011). Similarly, low socioeconomic status, characterized by lower income, education, and occupation, is closely associated with adverse health outcomes and heightened vulnerability (Adler & Rehkopf, 2008; Marmot, 2005).

Race and Ethnicity:

Another crucial social determinant of health influencing vulnerability is race and ethnicity. Racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes have been widely documented, with minority populations experiencing higher rates of chronic diseases, infant mortality, and limited access to healthcare (Braveman et al., 2011; Williams & Mohammed, 2009). These health disparities arise from various factors, including systemic racism, discrimination, cultural barriers, and disparities in healthcare access and quality (Bashshur, Smith, Howell, & Bowling, 2013; Williams & Mohammed, 2009). The intersectionality of race and ethnicity with other social determinants further compounds vulnerability among these populations.

Sexual Orientation:

Sexual orientation is another social determinant that influences vulnerability. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals often face challenges related to their sexual orientation, including stigma, discrimination, and marginalization (Meyer, 2003). These experiences can lead to higher rates of mental health conditions, substance abuse, and limited access to quality healthcare (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2013; Meyer, 2003). The unique health needs of LGBTQ individuals can further contribute to their vulnerability and the disparities they face in accessing appropriate care.

Insurance and Underinsurance:

Lack of insurance or being underinsured is a significant social determinant that contributes to vulnerability. Limited access to health insurance coverage affects individuals’ ability to seek timely and appropriate healthcare services, leading to delayed or inadequate treatment (Glied & Mahato, 2015). Being underinsured, despite having some form of insurance, often results in high out-of-pocket costs that can deter individuals from seeking necessary care. The financial burden associated with insurance gaps and high deductibles further exacerbates vulnerability among these individuals.

Conclusion:

Vulnerable populations encompass individuals who require special considerations due to their limited ability to advocate for themselves. Multiple social determinants of health contribute to their vulnerability, including poverty, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and lack of insurance or being underinsured. Recognizing and addressing these determinants are crucial steps in promoting health equity and improving the overall well-being of vulnerable populations. Strategies aimed at reducing vulnerability should focus on systemic changes that address the root causes of these social determinants and ensure equitable access to healthcare services for all individuals.