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Racial, Ethnic, Socio-Economic Disparities Persist in U.S. Healthcare System

February 23, 2005

Disparities relating to race, ethnicity and socio-economic status persist in the quality of and access to health care services despite improvements in areas including diabetes treatment, mammogram usage and medication errors, according to two reports released Tuesday by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, CQ HealthBeat reports.

The reports examined the quality and disparities in the effectiveness of care, patient safety, timeliness of treatment and patient comfort. The 2004 National Healthcare Disparities Report found that the quality of care for blacks was lower than that for whites for about two-thirds of quality measures and that access to care for blacks was less than whites in about 40% of access measures. For Hispanics, quality of care was less than non-Hispanic whites for about half of quality measures and access to care was below that for non-Hispanic whites for about 90% of access measures, according to the report.

The report indicated that improvements are possible, but noted that information was inadequate for some populations and conditions.

According to CQ HealthBeat News, federally supported health centers have improved care for low-income, uninsured and minority residents. The 2004 National Healthcare Quality Report found a 37% decrease from 2002 to 2003 in the percentage of nursing home patients who have moderate or severe pain and a 34% decrease from 1994 to 2001 in the hospital admission rate for uncontrolled diabetes. In addition, the report found that the number of incorrectly prescribed medications for elderly patients decreased by 34% between 1996 and 2000 (CQ HealthBeat, 2/22/05).