Disparities in Quality of Health Care

Health disparities in the quality of care different ethnic and racial groups receive can include:

  • Problems with patient-provider communication. This communication is critical for the delivery of appropriate and effective treatment and care and, regardless of a patient’s race, miscommunication can lead to incorrect diagnosis, improper use of medications, and failure to receive follow-up care. Among non-English-speaking populations in the United States, the linguistic barrier is even greater. Less than half of non-English speakers who say they need an interpreter during health care visits report having one. Additional communication problems stem from a lack of cultural understanding on the part of white providers for their minority patients. For example, patient health decisions can be influenced by religious beliefs, mistrust of Western medicine, and familial and hierarchical roles, all of which a white provider may not be familiar with. Other type of communication problems are seen in LGBT health care with the spoken heterosexist (conscious or unconscious) attitude on LGBT patients, lack of understanding on issues like having no sex with men (lesbians, gynecologic examinations) and other issues.
  • Provider discrimination. This is where health care providers either unconsciously or consciously treat certain racial and ethnic patients differently than other patients. Some research suggests that ethnic minorities are less likely than whites to receive a kidney transplant once on dialysis or to receive pain medication for bone fractures. Critics question this research and say further studies are needed to determine how doctors and patients make their treatment decisions. Others argue that certain diseases cluster by ethnicity and that clinical decision making does not always reflect these differences.
  • Lack of preventive care. According to the 2009 National Healthcare Disparities Report, uninsured Americans are less likely to receive preventive services in health care. For example, minorities are not regularly screened for colon cancer and the death rate for colon cancer has increased among African Americans and Hispanic people.

Further Reading


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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011

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