Disparities in Quality of Health Care

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Wide-scale disparity exists in the quality of healthcare across different ethnic and racial groups. These disparities occur in the incidence, prevalence and burden of disease as well as in the incidence of adverse health outcomes and mortality.

Examples of the minority groups that feel the greatest impact of these disparities include racial and ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay and transgender individuals, women, children, the elderly, disabled people and individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Some of the reasons for disparities in the quality of healthcare provided are discussed below.

  • Communication problems – Effective communication between healthcare providers and patients is critical for the delivery of safe and effective treatment and care. Poor communication can lead to inaccurate diagnosis, incorrect use of medication and failure to attend follow-up appointments. Language differences that exist between a patient and their healthcare provider can lead to a patient feeling confused about the healthcare advice and failing to comply with medical regimens. Communication can also be hindered by culture differences between the healthcare provider and the patient. Providers should take into account their patients’ cultural beliefs and practices in order to properly understand their views on health and disease.
  • Discrimination on the part of the provider – Discrimination occurs when healthcare providers treat individuals from certain population groups differently to other population groups, whether this is done consciously or not. This can occur if providers have a sterotyped impression of a certain racial or ethnic group, for example. Some researchers suggest that doctors are more likely to apply a negative stereotype to minority groups, irrespective of their income, education or personality.
  • Lack of preventive care and regular screening services – Americans who lack adequate health insurance are less likely to receive preventive services such as screening for common cancers. For example, minority groups in the U.S do not receive routine screening for colon cancer, despite the mortality rate due to this disease having increased in African Americans and Hispanics.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 6, 2014

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