The medical profession will face many challenges in the new millennium. As medicine looks forward to advances in molecular genetics and the prospect of unprecedented understanding of the causes and cures of human disease, clinicians, scientists and bioethicists may benefit from reflection upon the origins of the medical ethos and its relevance to postmodern medicine. Past distortions of the medical ethos, such as Nazism and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, as well as more recent experience with the ethical challenges of employer-based market driven managed care, provide important lessons as medicine contemplates the future. Racial and ethnic disparities in health status and access to care serve as a reminders that the racial doctrines that fostered the horrors of the Holocaust and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study have not been completely removed from contemporary thinking. Inequalities in health status based on race and ethnicity, as well as socioeconomic status, attest to the inescapable reality of racism in America. When viewed against a background of historical distortions and disregard for the traditional tenets of the medical ethos, persistent racial and ethnic disparities and health and the prospect of genetic engineering raise the specter of discrimination because of genotype, a postmodern version of "racist medicine" or of a "new eugenics." There is a need to balance medicine's devotion to the wellbeing of the patient and the primacy of the patient-physician relationship against with the need to meet the health care needs of society. The challenge facing the medical profession in the new millennium is to establish an equilibrium between the responsibility to assure quality health care for the individual patient while affecting societal changes to achieve "health for all."
The medical profession will face many challenges in the new millenium. As medicine looks forward to advances in molecular genetics and the prospect of unprecedented understanding of the causes and cures of human disease, clinicians, scientists, and bioethicists may benefit from reflection on the origins of the medical ethos and its relevance to postmodern medicine. Past distortions of the medical ethos, such as Nazism and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, as well as more recent experience with the ethical challenges of employer-based, market-driven managed care, provide important lessons as medicine contemplates the future. Racial and ethnic disparities in health status and access to care serve as reminders that the racial doctrines that fostered the horrors of the Holocaust and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study have not been removed completely from contemporary thinking. Inequalities in health status based on race and ethnicity, as well as socioeconomic status, attest to the inescapable reality of racism in America. When viewed against a background of historical distortions and disregard for the traditional tenets of the medical ethos, persistent racial and ethnic disparities in health and the prospect of genetic engineering raise the specter of discrimination because of genotype, a postmodern version of “racist medicine” or of a “new eugenics”. There is a need to balance medicine’s devotion to the well-being of the patient and the primacy of the patient-physician relationship against the need to meet the health care needs of society. The challenge facing the medical profession in the new millennium is to establish an equilibrium between the responsibility to ensure quality health care for the individual patient while effecting societal changes to achieve “health for all”.
Access to Care; Medical Ethos; Racism; Social Responsibility; Tuskegee
Disparities in health outcomes of members of different ancestral or ethnic groups can be observed in both developed and developing countries and continue to be a global concern. Genomic medicine can help toward closing this gap by expanding the knowledge on novel alleles related to disease risk and drug response, their frequencies, and their relation with disease and drug-response phenotypes, in as many countries and ethnic groups as possible. Without such knowledge, genomic medicine cannot deliver upon its promise of contributing to health for all. However, the use of ancestry or ethnicity-related genetic information as a selection criterion for assigning varying levels of access to health care is condemnable. Translational genomic medicine will allow for individualized clinical decision making - doing away with the use of race, ethnicity or ancestry as a proxy.
The 2001 Institute of Medicine report entitled Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care pointed out extensive healthcare disparities in the United States even when controlling for disease severity, socioeconomic status, education, and access. The literature identifies several groups of Americans who receive disparate healthcare: ethnic minorities, women, children, the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, prisoners, lesbians, gays, and the transgender population. Disparate healthcare represents an enormous current challenge with substantial moral, ethical, political, public health, public policy, and economic implications, all of which are likely to worsen over the next several decades without immediate and comprehensive action. A review of recent literature reveals over 100 general and specific suggestions and solutions to eliminate healthcare disparities. While healthcare disparities have roots in multiple sources, racial stereotypes and biases remain a major contributing factor and are prototypical of biases based on age, physical handicap, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation or other differences. Given that such disparities have a strong basis in racial biases, and that the principles of racism are similar to those of other “isms”, we summarize the current state of healthcare disparities, the goals of their eradication, and the various potential solutions from a conceptual model of racism affecting patients (internalized racism), caregivers (personally mediated racism), and society (institutionalized racism).
Greater attention towards genetics as a contributor to group health differences may lead to inappropriate use of race/ethnicity and gender as genetic heuristics and exacerbate health disparities. As part of a web-based survey, 1,035 family physicians (FPs) rated the contribution of genetics and environment to racial/ethnic and gender differences in health outcomes, and the importance of race/ethnicity and gender in their clinical decision-making. FPs attributed racial/ethnic and gender differences in health outcomes equally to environment and genetics. These beliefs were not associated with rated importance of race/ethnicity or gender in clinical decision-making. FPs appreciate the complexity of genetic and environmental influences on health differences by race/ethnicity and gender.
Genetics; Race; Ethnicity; Gender; Clinical practice; Health disparities
There are adequate scientific, public health and ethical justifications for studying Alzheimer disease (AD) in persons of varying race and ethnicity, but to be meaningful variables, race and ethnicity must be examined in context. The complex interactions between race, ethnicity, life style, and environmental factors such as climate and diet, require that future studies of AD in specific racial or ethnic groups attend to measures of racial/ethnic homogeneity and assessment of the environment and the elements that comprise the ethnicity of groups under study. Instead of arbitrarily selecting specific racial or ethnic groups in the hope of finding important differences, it may be in the long run less costly and more efficient to recruit families with highly positive (or negative) family histories, to search within these groups for possible racial or ethnic differences and to then investigate the possible racial or ethnic reasons for those differences.
This paper provides an overview of the contribution of sociologists to the study of racial and ethnic inequalities in health in the U.S. It argues that sociologists have made four principal contributions. First, they have challenged and problematized the biological understanding of race. Second, they have emphasized the primacy of social structure and context as determinants of racial differences in disease. Third, they have contributed to our understanding of the multiple ways in which racism affects health. Finally, sociologists have enhanced our understanding of the ways in which migration history and status can affect health. Sociological insights on racial disparities in health have important implications for the development of effective approaches to improve health and reduce health inequities.
In order to eliminate health disparities in the United States, more efforts are needed to address the breadth of social issues directly contributing to the healthy divide observed across racial and ethnic groups. Socioeconomic status, education, and the environment are intimately linked to health outcomes. However, with the tremendous advances in technology and increased investigation into human genetic variation, genomics is poised to play a valuable role in bolstering efforts to find new treatments and preventions for chronic conditions and diseases that disparately affect certain ethnic groups. Promising studies focused on understanding the genetic underpinnings of diseases such as prostate cancer or beta-blocker treatments for heart failure are illustrative of the positive contribution that genomics can have on improving minority health.
Although social stratification persists in the US, differentially influencing the well-being of ethnically defined groups, ethnicity concepts and their implications for health disparities remain under-examined. Ethnicity is a complex social construct that influences personal identity and group social relations. Ethnic identity, ethnic classification systems, the groupings that compose each system and the implications of assignment to one or another ethnic category are place-, time- and context-specific. In the US, racial stratification uniquely shapes expressions of and understandings about ethnicity. Ethnicity is typically invoked via the term, ‘race/ethnicity’; however, it is unclear whether this heralds a shift away from racialization or merely extends flawed racial taxonomies to populations whose cultural and phenotypic diversity challenge traditional racial classification. We propose that ethnicity be conceptualized as a two-dimensional, context-specific, social construct with an attributional dimension that describes group characteristics (e.g., culture, nativity) and a relational dimension that indexes a group’s location within a social hierarchy (e.g., minority vs. majority status). This new conceptualization extends prior definitions in ways that facilitate research on ethnicization, social stratification and health inequities. While federal ethnic and racial categories are useful for administrative purposes such as monitoring the inclusion of minorities in research, and traditional ethnicity concepts (e.g., culture) are useful for developing culturally appropriate interventions, our relational dimension of ethnicity is useful for studying the relationships between societal factors and health inequities. We offer a new conceptualization of ethnicity and outline next steps for employing socially meaningful measures of ethnicity in empirical research. Ethnicity is both increasingly complex and increasingly central to social life; therefore, improving its conceptualization and measurement is crucial for advancing research on ethnic health inequities.
USA; ethnic groups; ethnicity; health disparities; race relations; social epidemiology; social stratification; concepts
Race and ethnicity are commonly used predictor variables in medical and public health research. Including these variables has helped researchers to describe the etiology of certain disease states. Including race and ethnicity in research has been hypothesis generating in terms of the relationship between genetic and environmental factors in the development of disease. Eliminating health disparities among different racial and ethnic groups has become a national priority. However, incorporating race and ethnicity into health research is complex because these variables are difficult to define and individuals often identify with more than one race or ethnicity. As a “minority-majority”, multiethnic, multiracial state, Hawai‘i faces unique challenges in incorporating race and ethnicity into research. As the demographics of the United States continue to evolve, many of the challenges faced in Hawai‘i will apply to the United States as a whole.
Along with the growing heterogeneity of the American population, ethnic/racial disparity is becoming a clear health issue in the United States. The awareness of ethnic/racial disparities has been growing because of considerable data gathered from recent clinical and epidemiological studies. These studies have highlighted the importance of addressing these differences in the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases potentially according to race. It is becoming particularly clear that there is a 2- to 3-fold racial difference in certain cardiovascular diseases (eg, preeclampsia) associated with dysfunctional nitric oxide–mediated vasodilation. In this review, the authors summarize the current literature on racial disparities in nitric oxide–mediated vasodilation in relation to cardiovascular health with an emphasis on vascular nitric oxide bioavailability as a balance between production via endothelial nitric oxide synthase and degradation through reactive oxygen species. The major hypotheses postulated on the biological basis of these differences are also highlighted.
Race; nitric oxide; endothelial nitric oxide synthase
Patients belonging to racial and ethnic minority populations continue to receive lesser-quality healthcare relative to other patients, even when controlling for relevant demographic variables. Such disparities represent a significant challenge for physicians who are ethically committed to serving all patients equally, irrespective of personal characteristics. Accordingly, this report explores the ethical obligations of individual physicians and the medical profession as they pertain to racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare. To address these disparities, the AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs recommends that physicians customize the provision of medial care to meet the needs and preferences of individual patients. Moreover, physicians must learn to recognize racial and ethnic healthcare disparities and critically examine their own practices to ensure that inappropriate considerations do not affect clinical judgment. Physicians can also work to eliminate racial and ethnic healthcare disparities by encouraging diversity within the profession, continuing to investigate healthcare disparities, and supporting the development of appropriate quality measures.
Racial/ethnic minorities are 1.5 to 2.0 times more likely than whites to have most of the major chronic diseases. Chronic diseases are also more common in the poor than the nonpoor and this association is frequently mediated by race/ethnicity. Specifically, children are disproportionately affected by racial/ethnic health disparities. Between 1960 and 2005 the percentage of children with a chronic disease in the United States almost quadrupled with racial/ethnic minority youth having higher likelihood for these diseases. The most common major chronic diseases of youth in the United States are asthma, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, dental disease, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, mental illness, cancers, sickle-cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and a variety of genetic and other birth defects. This review will focus on the psychosocial rather than biological factors that play important roles in the etiology and subsequent solutions to these health disparities because they should be avoidable and they are inherently unjust. Finally, this review examines access to health services by focusing on health insurance and dental insurance coverage and access to school health services.
Asthma is a common but complex respiratory disease caused by the interaction of genetic and environmental factors. Significant racial and ethnic disparities in prevalence, mortality, and drug response have been described. These disparities may be explained by racial and ethnic-specific variation in genetic, environmental, social and psychological risk factors. In addition, race, ethnicity, and social class are important proxies for unmeasured factors that influence health outcomes. Herein, we review salient differences in the etiologies of asthma by race, ethnicity and social class, and argue for their continued use as variables in asthma research.
Asthma; race; ethnicity; social class; interactions
Emerging methods in the measurement of race and ethnicity have important implications for the field of public health. Traditionally, information on race and/or ethnicity has been integral to our understanding of the health issues affecting the U.S. population. We review some of the complexities created by new classification approaches made possible by the inclusion of multiple-race assessment in the U.S. Census and large health surveys. We discuss the importance of these classification decisions in understanding racial/ethnic health and health care access disparities. The trend toward increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the United States will put further pressure on the public health industry to develop consistent and useful approaches to racial/ethnic classifications.
classification bias; public health statistics; cultural competence
The measurement of cognitive abilities across diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic groups has a contentious history, with broad political, legal, economic, and ethical repercussions. Advances in psychometric methods and converging scientific ideas about genetic variation afford new tools and theoretical contexts to move beyond the reflective analysis of between-group test score discrepancies. Neuropsychology is poised to benefit from these advances to cultivate a richer understanding of the factors that underlie cognitive test score disparities. To this end, the present article considers several topics relevant to the measurement of cognitive abilities across groups from diverse ancestral origins, including fairness and bias, equivalence, diagnostic validity, item response theory, and differential item functioning.
Cross-cultural neuropsychology; measurement; genomics; ethnicity; race; differential item functioning
To systematically review the reporting of race/ethnicity in SART Clinic Outcome Reporting System (CORS) publications.
Systematic review using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) methodology of literature published in PUBMED on race/ethnicity that includes data from SART CORS.
Systematic review was performed on behalf of the ASRM Health Disparities Special Interest Group.
IVF cycles reported to SART
Main Outcome Measure
Any outcomes reported in SART CORS
Seven publications were identified that assessed racial/ethnic disparities in IVF outcomes using SART data. All reported a racial/ethnic disparity. However, over 35% of cycles were excluded from analysis because of missing race/ethnicity data.
Review of current publications of SART data suggests significant racial/ethnic disparities in IVF outcomes. However, the potential for selection bias limits confidence in these findings given that fewer than 65% of SART reported cycles include race/ethnicity. Our understanding of how race/ethnicity influences ART outcome could be greatly improved if information on race/ethnicity was available for all reported cycles.
race; ethnicity; disparity; in-vitro fertilization; SART
Disparities in outcomes associated with race and ethnicity are well documented for many diseases and patient populations. Tuberculosis (TB) disproportionately affects economically disadvantaged, racial and ethnic minority populations. Pulmonary impairment after tuberculosis (PIAT) contributes heavily to the societal burden of TB. Individual impacts associated with PIAT may vary by race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status.
We analyzed the pulmonary function of 320 prospectively identified patients with pulmonary tuberculosis who had completed at least 20 weeks standard anti-TB regimes by directly observed therapy. We compared frequency and severity of spirometry-defined PIAT in groups stratified by demographics, pulmonary risk factors, and race/ethnicity, and examined clinical correlates to pulmonary function deficits.
Pulmonary impairment after tuberculosis was identified in 71% of non-Hispanic Whites, 58% of non-Hispanic Blacks, 49% of Asians and 32% of Hispanics (p < 0.001). Predictors for PIAT varied between race/ethnicity. PIAT was evenly distributed across all levels of socioeconomic status suggesting that PIAT and socioeconomic status are not related. PIAT and its severity were significantly associated with abnormal chest x-ray, p < 0.0001. There was no association between race/ethnicity and time to beginning TB treatment, p = 0.978.
Despite controlling for cigarette smoking, socioeconomic status and time to beginning TB treatment, non-Hispanic White race/ethnicity remained an independent predictor for disproportionately frequent and severe pulmonary impairment after tuberculosis relative to other race/ethnic groups. Since race/ethnicity was self reported and that race is not a biological construct: these findings must be interpreted with caution. However, because race/ethnicity is a proxy for several other unmeasured host, pathogen or environment factors that may contribute to disparate health outcomes, these results are meant to suggest hypotheses for further research.
We conducted a review to examine current literature on the effects of interpersonal and institutional racism and discrimination occurring within health care settings on the health care received by racial/ethnic minority patients.
We searched the PsychNet, PubMed, and Scopus databases for articles on US populations published between January 1, 2008 and November 1, 2011. We used various combinations of the following search terms: discrimination, perceived discrimination, race, ethnicity, racism, institutional racism, stereotype, prejudice or bias, and health or health care. Fifty-eight articles were reviewed.
Patient perception of discriminatory treatment and implicit provider biases were the most frequently examined topics in health care settings. Few studies examined the overall prevalence of racial/ethnic discrimination and none examined temporal trends. In general, measures used were insufficient for examining the impact of interpersonal discrimination or institutional racism within health care settings on racial/ethnic disparities in health care.
Better instrumentation, innovative methodology, and strategies are needed for identifying and tracking racial/ethnic discrimination in health care settings.
Hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) is a highly specialized, expensive and resource-intense medical procedure that can be associated with racial disparities. We review the prevailing literature on racial disparities in HCT in the United States and describe areas for future research and interventions. We discuss the complexity of interpreting race as a biological and social determinant of disease in biomedical research, especially as it relates to HCT. In the United States, race is often a surrogate for socioeconomic, education and health insurance status. We also discuss some of the nuances to consider while reviewing the literature on racial disparities. Disparities by race exist in three areas related to HCT: donor availability, access to HCT and outcomes of HCT. African-Americans/Blacks have a lower likelihood of finding an unrelated donor. Race and ethnicity definitions are country-specific and reconciling race data can represent significant challenges to unrelated donor registries worldwide. African-Americans/Blacks do not have the same access to autologous and allogeneic HCT as Whites. Racial disparities in outcomes of HCT are more prevalent among allogeneic HCT than autologous HCT recipients. More research is required to understand the biological, social, cultural, medical and financial aspects of race that may influence access to HCT and survival after transplantation. Better understanding of racial disparities will minimize inequities, inform health policy, guide development of interventions targeted to eliminate disparities and ensure equitable access to HCT for all populations.
race/ethnicity; hematopoietic cell transplantation; allogeneic transplant; autologous transplant; access; health-care disparities
Ethnicity/race is a much-studied variable in epidemiology. There has been little consensus about what self-reported ethnicity/race represents, but it is a measure of some combination of genetic, socioeconomic, and cultural factors. The present article will attempt to: 1.) Elucidate the limitations of contemporary discourse on ethnicity/race that emphasizes the genetic and socioeconomic dimensions as competing explanatory frameworks; 2.) Demonstrate how considerable attention to the cultural dimension facilitates understanding of race differences in health-related outcomes; and 3.) Discuss interpretations of disparities in health status of African Americans versus European Americans from an ethical perspective. A major challenge to the discourse on ethnicity/race and health being limited to socioeconomic and genetic considerations is the lack of attention to the third alternative of a cultural perspective. The combined cultural ideologies of individualism and racism undermine the utility of epidemiologic research in health promotion and disease prevention campaigns aimed at reducing the racial gaps in health status. An ethical analysis supplements the cultural perspective. Ethics converge with culture on the notion of values influencing the study of ethnicity/race in epidemiology. A cultural approach to the use of ethnicity/race in epidemiologic research addresses methodological limitations, public health traditions, and ethical imperatives.
Race is an unscientific, societally constructed taxonomy that is based on an ideology that views some human population groups as inherently superior to others on the basis of external physical characteristics or geographic origin. The concept of race is socially meaningful but of limited biological significance. Racial or ethnic variations in health status result primarily from variations among races in exposure or vulnerability to behavioral, psychosocial, material, and environmental risk factors and resources. Additional data that capture the specific factors that contribute to group differences in disease must be collected. However, reductions in racial disparities in health will ultimately require change in the larger societal institutions and structures that determine exposure to pathogenic conditions. More attention needs to be given to the ways that racism, in its multiple forms, affects health status. Socio-economic status is a central determinant of health status, overlaps the concept of race, but is not equivalent to race. Inadequate attention has been given to the range of variation in social, cultural, and health characteristics within and between racial or ethnic minority populations. There is a growing emphasis, both within and without the Federal Government, on the collection of racial or ethnic identifiers in health data systems, but noncoverage of the Asian and Pacific Islander population, Native Americans, and subgroups of the Hispanic population is still a major problem. However, for all racial or ethnic groups, we need not only more data but better data. We must be more active in directly measuring the health-related aspects of belonging to these social categories.
Despite medical and scientific advances, racial and ethnic disparities persist in US asthma morbidity and mortality rates. Progress in the elimination of these disparities will involve disentangling the contribution of social constructs, such as race, socioeconomic status, and culture, from that of the physical environment and genetic susceptibility. One approach to reducing asthma disparities is through the traditional disease prevention stages of intervention. As such, primary prevention targets reductions in asthma incidence; secondary prevention is the mitigation of established disease and involves disease detection, management, and control; and tertiary prevention is the reduction of complications caused by severe disease. Once causative factors at each level of disease prevention are understood, this knowledge can be translated into clinical practice and public health policy.
Asthma; racial disparities; disease prevention
Using data from the 2006 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the 2000 Census, we explored whether race/ethnic disparities in healthcare use were associated with residential segregation. We used five measures of healthcare use: office based physician visits, outpatient department physician visits, visits to nurses and physician’s assistants, visits to other health professionals, and having a usual source of care (USC). For each individual, we controlled for age, gender, marital status, insurance status, income, educational attainment, employment status, region, and health status. We used the racial-ethnic composition of the zip code to control for residential segregation. Our findings suggest that disparities in healthcare utilization are related to both individuals’ racial and ethnic identity and the racial and ethnic composition of their communities. Therefore, efforts to improve access to health care services and to eliminate healthcare disparities for African Americans and Hispanics should not only focus on individual-level factors but also include community-level factors.
healthcare disparities; segregation; physician services; nurse practitioner services; physician’s assistant services; minority health
This paper applies social cognition research to understanding and ameliorating the provider contribution to racial/ethnic disparities in health care. We discuss how fundamental cognitive mechanisms such as automatic, unconscious processes (e.g., stereotyping) can help explain provider bias. Even well-intentioned providers who are motivated to be nonprejudiced may stereotype racial/ethnic minority members, particularly under conditions of that diminish cognitive capacity. These conditions—time pressure, fatigue, and information overload—are frequently found in health care settings. We conclude with implications of the social-cognitive perspective for developing interventions to reduce provider bias.
provider behavior; disparities; race; ethnicity; social cognition