July 2009

Eliminating Health Care Disparities

Since the Institute of Medicine published the report Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care in 2002, some progress has been made toward eliminating disparities in care for minorities. However, a recent Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality report notes that more than 60 percent of disparities in quality of care have stayed the same or become worse for Blacks, Asians and people who are poor. Nearly 60 percent of disparities in care, including quality, have stayed the same or become worse for Hispanics.

In December 2007, the American Hospital Association (AHA) created the Special Advisory Group on Improving Hospital Care for Minorities. The group is chaired by Kevin Lofton, president and CEO of CHI and former chair of the AHA Board of Trustees. The group has a dual mission: to study ways to improve hospital care and eliminate disparities among minority populations; and to ensure that racial and ethnic minorities have a voice in the national debate on health care reform.

Lofton, along with Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of AHA, recently wrote an article titled "Hospitals Must Take the Lead in Eliminating Disparities in Care." The article explains that the Special Advisory Group on Improving Hospital Care for Minorities has made specific recommendations to hospital leaders. These include focusing time, attention and resources on quality, transparency, data collection, governance, public health, wellness and workforce opportunities.

In addition, the AHA's Health Research and Educational Trust has developed a Web-based Disparities Toolkit to help hospitals achieve equitable care for all. This toolkit includes resources for the systematic and respectful collection of race, ethnicity and primary language data from patients - an important first step in closing care disparity gaps. CHI's own Patient Ethnicity and Race Initiative, now in a pilot stage at CHI's four Nebraska ministries and St. Joseph Medical Center, Towson, MD, has begun to standardize collection of patient ethnicity and race information across the system to better understand the health care needs of the diverse populations served.

To learn more about the work of the Special Advisory Group on Improving Hospital Care for Minorities and AHA resources for eliminating disparities in health care, visit the Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities page of the AHA Web site.