Determining Why Racial, Ethnic Disparities Exist
Massachusetts health care providers must improve the "gathering of raceand ethnicity data on medical patients" if they want to determine the"full breadth of health care disparities, and why they exist and whatcan be done to eliminate them," Paul Mendis, chief medical officer ofthe Massachusetts Neighborhood Health Plan, and James O'Connell, chair of the Clinical Issues Committee at the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, write in a Boston Globe opinion piece.
Accordingto Mendis, who also is a member of the Joint Legislative Commission toEliminate Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, and O'Connell, who alsois president of the Boston Health Care For the Homeless Program,"Collection of such data can raise difficult issues such as fear ofprejudice, selective treatment and profiling. However, it is the onlyway to accurately define the problem and convince the public and healthcare providers that disparities do indeed exist."
Massachusettsis taking steps to address the issue by requiring "all health insurancecompanies to begin gathering and reporting quality and performancemeasures by next spring," as well as requiring health insurers andhospitals to show they are "reducing racial and ethnic disparities inthe delivery of health care," Mendis and O'Connell write.
Asthe state takes action on disparities, health care providers canimplement their own measures to reduce disparities, such as improvingrelationships with minority communities, and addressing discriminationand racial profiling, they add. The authors conclude that ifresearchers can determine why racial and ethnic disparities exist,"Massachusetts can take great pride in providing truly comprehensiveaccess to quality, efficient care -- regardless of race, ethnicity orsocioeconomic differences" (Mendis/O'Connell, Boston Globe, 8/7).
Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserWeekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives,and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.