Momentum building to end health care disparities

Doctors are talking with colleagues and reading journal articles for advice on how to ensure that all patients get equal care.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted May 16, 2005

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

Washington -- Physicians are getting the message that they have a major role to play in eliminating disparities in health care, and many are already looking to their own practices to address this concern.

A national survey conducted by the AMA Institute for Ethics found that 55% of physicians believe that minority patients generally receive a lower quality of care than non-minority patients, and 75% said they are in a good position to improve that care.

These results indicate a deepening understanding of the challenges at hand.

In 2002, an Institute of Medicine report found that inequities existed across a broad range of clinically necessary treatments in several areas of care, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental illness.

The IOM report came soon after a Kaiser Family Foundation survey was released suggesting that the majority of physicians believe that racial and ethnic disparities rarely or never happened.

That information helped propel physician involvement in the issue, and the American Medical Association, the National Medical Assn. and the National Hispanic Medical Assn. announced the formation of the Commission to End Health Care Disparities in January. The three groups joined with more than 30 other health-related organizations in forming the commission.

The survey was the commission's first activity.

"There is a great deal of work to be done to end health care disparities, but this survey is encouraging," said AMA President John C. Nelson, MD, MPH. "It shows that physicians of all races are eager to learn how they can do more to eliminate disparities in medical care."

Nearly 2,000 primary care physicians responded to the survey, and many of them practiced in communities in which a high proportion of racial and ethnic minorities reside.

"Past studies have indicated that physicians thought health disparities were unrelated to their own work, or were caused by social factors that physicians couldn't impact," said Gary Puckrein, PhD, executive director of the National Minority Health Month Foundation. "This survey shows a significant evolution in this attitude."

The survey results were presented April 25 as part of the National Minority Health Month Foundation's Second Annual Leadership Summit on Health Disparities in Washington.

"This survey strongly suggests that momentum among physicians is growing strong to improve the health and health care of racial and ethnic minority patients," said Randall W. Maxey, MD, PhD, immediate past president of the National Medical Assn. and co-chair of the commission.

The findings

The survey found that many physicians are either expressing an interest or are actively participating in educational or community activities to address health care disparities. For example, within the previous month, 32% of the physicians surveyed said they had spoken to colleagues about ways to address specific health care needs of their minority patients, and 44% had spoken to community health workers about the health needs of patients in their practice community.

Within the previous six months, 19% of the doctors said they had attended an educational event, and 54% said they had read a journal article on improving the health of minority patients. Physicians surveyed also reported that they had the skills and training to care for minority patients. Eighty-eight percent said they had cared for minority patients during their training "often" or "very often."

Seventy percent said they were well-informed about possible cultural differences between themselves and their patients, 41% reported that they were fluent in a language other than English, 21% said they speak a foreign language with patients "often" or "very often" and 87% said they had cared for a patient within the past month who did not speak English very well.

As for barriers to care, poverty in the communities in which minority patients live was reported by 20% of physicians, financial problems were cited by 21% and time constraints by 41%. The survey and the commission are funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Back to top


Asking questions, gaining insights

The AMA Institute for Ethics surveyed nearly 2,000 primary care physicians about health care disparities. Among the findings:

  • 89% said they thought it was possible to provide high-quality care to all of their patients.
  • 88% cared for minority patients during their training "often" or "very often."
  • 87% cared for a patient within the previous month who did not speak English fluently.
  • 75% said they were in a position to make a difference in the quality of care that minority patients receive.
  • 70% reported being well-informed about possible cultural differences between themselves and their patients.
  • 55% agree that minority patients generally receive lower quality care than white patients.
  • 50% worked with someone who had a special interest in improving the health of minority patients.
  • 41% said their curriculum included some classes specifically devoted to minority health issues.

Back to top

External links

Commission to End Health Care Disparities (link)

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn