Complex Systems Thinking and Current Impasses in Health Disparities Research

Applying the concepts and methods of complex systems to health disparities may help researchers move beyond the current research impasse. A complex systems approach could help answer difficult questions about the causes of health disparities and lead to the identification of effective polices and interventions.

The author details how a systems approach can be used to conceptualize problems such as examining the role that genes play; the importance of early life factors; and the relative roles of people and places.

More specifically, a systems approach could help move the field of health disparities research forward by:

  • Promoting the development of more sophisticated dynamic conceptual models of the causes of health disparities.
  • Using formal models and simulations to explore the effects of different interventions in the context of dynamic relations.
  • Enhancing the use of existing data and promoting the collection of new types of needed data.

“Understanding the causes of health disparities,” the author writes, “is no longer about partitioning group and individual effects or social and biological effects but rather about understanding how these dynamically relate to generate the macro patterns that we see.”