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Ending Disparities

10.01.11 by Rich Umbdenstock

The right thing to do is also the smart thing to ensure hospitals' financial viability

Equity is a principle fundamental to quality health care, yet racial and ethnic disparities not only exist — they are associated with worse patient outcomes. The rapidly changing demographics of our communities make it urgent to address disparities now so that we can move our organizations in directions that will increase, not undermine, our capacity to effectively serve.

By 2042, people from racial and ethnic minorities, who now make up one-third of the U.S. population, will become a majority. Today, patients from these groups often receive a lower quality of health care than non-minority patients, even when controlling for income and health insurance status, according to the Institute of Medicine. Racial and ethnic health care disparities turn up not just in one kind of disease or condition, but across the health care spectrum, and in preventive, primary, acute and post-acute care.

This is clearly an unacceptable situation that will grow along with the population of racial and ethnic minorities if we do not take action now. The American Hospital Association has joined the Association of American Medical Colleges, the American College of Healthcare Executives, Catholic Health Association of the United States and the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems to create a national call to action to eliminate health care disparities.

All of our organizations are doing important things to eliminate disparities in health care. But we recognize that we must pick up the pace of progress. So we have joined together in an effort to increase the momentum, with the goal of making the most progress possible in the shortest time possible in improving the quality of care for each and every patient.

We are collaborating on a national "call to action" on three strategies that, taken together, will help eliminate health care disparities. We want to:

  • Increase the collection and use of race, ethnicity and language preference data from each patient on admission.
  • Increase cultural competency training for all personnel who come in contact with patients.
  • Increase diversity in governance and management so as to raise the awareness and organizational capacity to address this important issue.

Eliminating health disparities is about more than doing what is right. It is also a strategic imperative to ensure a hospital's or health system's long-term financial viability as payment programs more and more link revenues to results. The organizations that have joined in this call to action have assembled a substantial body of learning about successful efforts to address disparities, information that we are sharing on a special website, www.EquityofCare.org.

Doing what is right about health care disparities is also doing what is smart for hospitals and others in the health care community. We must position ourselves to better know our patients and communities and increase both diversity and cultural competency in our ranks. We must move quickly so we can catch up with our changing communities.

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The opinions expressed by authors do not necessarily reflect the policy of Health Forum Inc. or the American Hospital Association