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Disparity in Care: A Problem with a Solution

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The US Census Bureau estimates that by 2050, one in every two Americans will be an African/American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic/Latino, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. This racial and ethnic diversity creates the need to focus on delivery of high quality, linguistically and culturally appropriate care.  
The Problem – Research Validates Disparities in Health Care
A recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) – Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Dispartieis in Health Care – Provides compelling evidence of inequality in health care provided to minority groups in the United States, irrespective of income, insurance status, or education.  
According to the IOM Unequal Treatment report, reasons for the inequalities may include:  
Subtle differences in the way individuals respond to treatment.
Variations in individual help-seeking behavior.
Barriers in language proficiency, literacy level and cultural beliefs.
 
The IOM Unequal Treatment report also cites the following possible reasons for inequality: 
A provider’s prior beliefs may influence medical decisions.
The provider may have a limited amount of time to gather information.
An unconscious prejudice or bias may exist.
 
The Solution – Provider Awareness and Education Makes a Difference
According to the IOM Unequal Treatment report report, provider awareness and education can help bridge the gap in health care disparities. The IOM Unequal Treatment report concludes that training can help eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health care by:  
Helping to improving provider knowledge of cultural and behavioral aspects of health care.
Helping providers build effective communications strategies.

“Health care providers should be made aware of racial and ethnic disparities in health care, and that the fact that these disparities exist, often despite providers’ best intentions. In addition, all current and future health care providers can benefit from cross-cultural education programs.”  
“Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare”
Institute of Medicine, March 2002
 
 
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