Disparity in Care: A Problem With A Solution

Background on Health Care Disparities

In 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released the report Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. This report provided 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.

Why Is It Important?

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. These trends make it increasingly important to make providers aware of the need to focus on delivery of high quality, linguistically and culturally appropriate care.

Provider Awareness and Education Makes a Difference

The IOM Unequal Treatment report concluded that provider awareness and education can help bridge the gap in health care disparities by:

  • Helping to improve 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

Click here to link to the IOM's “Unequal Treatment” Report

Strides Made In the Last Decade

Since the first research came out about disparities in care, many organizations and partnerships have begun to address and remove the barriers to equality in health care for all:

  • Federal and state governments.
  • Health plans and their associations
  • Health care professionals and medical associations
  • Universities, medical schools, health sciences education.
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Cultural group advocacy organizations.
  • A host of others.

Key efforts include:

  • Developing training and continuing education in organizational assessment and cultural competence.
  • Producing and disseminating multiple in-language and easy-to-read patient education in a variety of media (handouts, audio and video programs).
  • Establishing grants for health disparity programs and improvements.
  • Conducting on-going research to determine the success of these efforts.


Click on the link for a partial list of Disparities Initiatives by Major Industry Organizations.

We are proud to have you join us and these distinguished partners in the collaboration to reduce and eliminate disparities in health care wherever possible.