Addressing Patient Disparities in Hospital Care

Report urges standardized data collection on race, ethnicity and language

WEDNESDAY, May 19, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A standardized approach for U.S. hospitals to collect data on patients' race, ethnicity and language is needed to eliminate disparities in health care experienced by people whose primary language is not English, says a new Commonwealth Fund report.

"The recent announcement by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson that the federal government will implement a national Electronic Medical Record System within 10 years points to the urgent need to standardize collection of racial, ethnic and language data in our health-care system," Dr. Anne C. Beal, Commonwealth Fund senior program officer, said in a prepared statement.

"Having accurate, usable race and ethnicity data as part of this nationwide system will be essential to monitoring the quality of care and addressing the persistent health-care disparities in our system," Beal said.

This new report was prepared by researchers who conducted site visits to six leading hospitals and health systems, and a nationwide survey of hospitals. The report concluded that hospitals in 22 states with a mandate to gather data on race, ethnicity and language were more likely to do so than hospitals in 28 states that had no such mandate.

Teaching and urban hospitals were most likely to collect this kind of data.

The report recommends the following steps that hospitals should follow to collect accurate data on patients' race, ethnicity and primary language:

  • Hospitals should standardize who provides the information. Patients or their caregivers are more likely to give accurate information than hospital staff.
  • Data should be collected when the patient is admitted or registered.
  • Hospitals should standardize which racial or ethnic categories are used.
  • The data should be stored in a format that's compatible across hospitals and health systems. The format should allow for import and export of data and enable the data to be merged with clinical files.
  • Patient concerns about how the data would be used should be addressed prior to collection of the information.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about minority health.

SOURCE: Commonwealth Fund, news release, May 18, 2004
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