Research, Collecting Data Important in Determining Why Racial, Ethnic Disparities Exist, Opinion Piece Says
Massachusetts health care providers must improve the "gathering of race and ethnicity data on medical patients" if they want to determine the "full breadth of health care disparities, and why they exist and what can be done to eliminate them," Paul Mendis, chief medical officer of the 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.
According to Mendis, who also is a member of the Joint Legislative Commission to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, and O'Connell, who also is president of the Boston Health Care For the Homeless Program, "Collection of such data can raise difficult issues such as fear of prejudice, selective treatment and profiling. However, it is the only way to accurately define the problem and convince the public and health care providers that disparities do indeed exist."
Massachusetts is taking steps to address the issue by requiring "all health insurance companies to begin gathering and reporting quality and performance measures by next spring," as well as requiring health insurers and hospitals to show they are "reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the delivery of health care," Mendis and O'Connell write.
As the state takes action on disparities, health care providers can implement their own measures to reduce disparities, such as improving relationships with minority communities, and addressing discrimination and racial profiling, they add. The authors conclude that if researchers can determine why racial and ethnic disparities exist, "Massachusetts can take great pride in providing truly comprehensive access to quality, efficient care -- regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic differences" (Mendis/O'Connell, Boston Globe, 8/7).