Vulnerable populations in healthcare

Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2013 Apr;26(2):186-92. doi: 10.1097/ACO.0b013e32835e8c17.


Purpose of review: This review is designed to update readers on recent discussions and research regarding vulnerable populations in medicine, including patients who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, queer, in prison or labeled with a stigmatizing complex medical disease.

Recent findings: Recent studies have more closely examined the effects of being part of a vulnerable population. Greater societal income inequality impacts those at the lower end of the income curve by increasing mortality and heightening the importance of individual personal situations. Recommendations from an extensive WHO report on the social determinants of health may affect social policy and use of public resources in Europe. Clinicians are undereducated about the lives and concerns of vulnerable populations, including LGBTQI persons, immigrants, physicians, prisoners, and families of patients with diseases considered 'incompatible with life'.

Summary: Greater understanding of the cause of the health effects of being socioeconomically disadvantaged or being a member of a vulnerable population may be the first steps toward specific policy recommendations. Professional medical organizations and advocacy groups should raise awareness, provide education, publish guidelines and define the goals for the medical care for certain vulnerable populations.Vulnerable populations are at risk for disparate healthcare access and outcomes because of economic, cultural, ethnic or health characteristics. Vulnerable populations include patients who are racial or ethnic minorities, children, elderly, socioeconomically disadvantaged, underinsured or those with certain medical conditions. Members of vulnerable populations often have health conditions that are exacerbated by unnecessarily inadequate healthcare.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants
  • Female
  • Homosexuality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians
  • Social Class
  • Vulnerable Populations*