National groups unite to target health disparities

AHA leads an effort to increase data collection, improve diversity in medical leadership and encourage cultural competency training at hospitals and medical schools.

By Carolyne Krupa — Posted Aug. 15, 2011

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Five major health care organizations are banding together in a nationwide call for action to address racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

The effort comes as the nation faces the dual challenge of moving forward with the health system reform law and an increasingly diverse population. Racial and ethnic minorities represent a third of the U.S. population and are projected to make up the majority of the population by 2042.

"Disparities are an urgent issue," said Bruce Siegel, MD, MPH, president and CEO of the National Assn. of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. "We are at a tipping point in America."

The American Hospital Assn., NAPH, Assn. of American Medical Colleges, American College of Healthcare Executives and the Catholic Health Assn. of the United States are collaborating on the Equity of Care initiative.

Their goals include growing diversity in hospital and health system leadership and increasing cultural competency training in medical schools, hospitals and other health care institutions. The groups also are encouraging more collection of data on patients' race, ethnicity and language to better identify where disparities exist.

The initiative is unfunded and has no set time frame, said AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock.

Targeting quality of care

Decreasing disparities in care has long been a goal of AHA and institutions nationwide, but it is gaining new focus under health system reform, Umbdenstock said. To succeed under a pay-for-performance model, health care professionals must improve quality of care for all patients, he said.

Health reform's expansion of insurance coverage to an estimated 32 million uninsured Americans is another motivating factor, said Marc Nivet, AAMC chief diversity officer. Many newly insured will be minorities and low-income individuals with accumulated health problems.

"The question becomes really, 'Are we fully prepared to take care of these patients?' " Nivet said.

Through the initiative, the groups will educate their members about available resources, including AHA guides to building cultural competency and collecting data on patients' race, ethnicity and language. By working together, the organizations will be better suited to collect and share information on best practices, Umbdenstock said.

"Disparities in care are rampant in our [health care] system. You see them in cardiac care, in cancer care -- almost everywhere you look," Dr. Siegel said.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson is an example of an institution working to correct disparities, he said.

UMMC is involved in several initiatives, including programs to attract more minorities to the health care field and the Mississippi Institute for Improvement of Geographic Minority Health, which aims to improve health care in rural communities, said Jasmine Pugh Taylor, MD, UMMC's associate vice chancellor for multicultural affairs.

The medical center also heads the Jackson Heart Study, the nation's largest investigation into genetic factors affecting hypertension, cardiac disease, strokes, diabetes and other diseases among blacks.

Internally, UMMC has a special council of physicians and other clinicians focusing on a range of disparities issues, such as access to care, patient education and health literacy, said Mary Mixon, MSN, UMMC assistant hospital administrator.

Having a large-scale initiative such as Equity of Care to bring more attention to the issue on a national scale is valuable, Mixon said.

"The whole health care system will change in the next several years, and we want to make sure we can meet everyone's needs," she said. "It's important that we have the resources and that we continue to talk and share."

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External links

Equity of Care initiative (link)

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