Racial and ethnic disparities remain a challenge for patients in the U.S. health care system, the American College of Physicians (ACP) said in an updated paper. Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, Updated 2010, an update to a policy paper that was originally released in 2003, outlines recommendations on how to close the gap between racial and ethnic minority patients and their white counterparts.
"Closing the health care disparities gap will be a difficult, multifaceted, and important task," said J. Fred Ralston, Jr., MD, FACP, president of ACP. "Overwhelming evidence shows that racial and ethnic minorities continue to be prone to poorer quality health care than white Americans, even when factors such as insurance status are controlled."
In updating the recommendations from the previous policy paper's call to action, ACP recommends that:
- All legal residents should be provided with affordable health insurance.
- All patients, regardless of race, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, primary language, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, cultural background, age, disability, or religion deserve high-quality health care.
- Physicians and other health care professionals need to acknowledge the cultural, informational, and linguistic needs of their patients as our society increasingly becomes more racially and ethnically diverse.
- Physicians and other health care professionals must be sensitive to cultural diversity among patients and recognize that preconceived perceptions of minority patients may play a role in their treatment and contribute to disparities in health care among racial and ethnic minorities.
- The health care delivery system must be reformed to ensure that patient-centered medical care is easily accessible to racial and ethnic minorities and physicians are enabled with the resources to deliver quality care.
- Diversity in the health care workforce must be encouraged. A diverse health care workforce that is more representative of the patients it serves is crucial to promote understanding among physicians and other health care professionals and patients, facilitate quality care, and promote equity in the health care system.
- Inequities in education, housing, job security, and environmental health must be erased if health disparities are to be effectively addressed. Social determinants of health are a significant source of health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities.
- Efforts must be made to reduce the effect of environmental stressors that disproportionately threaten to harm the health and well-being of racial and ethnic communities. And,
- More research and data collection related to racial and ethnic health disparities is needed to empower stakeholders to better understand and address the problem of disparities.
"Racial and ethnic disparities in health care present a difficult challenge that results from the interaction of multiple complex factors, for which there are no easy solutions," concluded Dr. Ralston. "However we as physicians, and as a society, have a moral imperative that appropriate resources are devoted to responding to the challenge."
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