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Spotlight on Health Disparities

April 27, 2018 By: Bob Atlas

There’s a common refrain among health care providers when it comes to discussing health disparities. It goes something like this: “I treat all my patients exactly the same, regardless of their color.” Or this: “A disease ought to be treated the same, no matter who has it.” Or this one: “I’m a doctor/nurse/pharmacist/etc. – I treat illnesses, not personal problems.”

While those sentiments are undoubtedly valid, there’s something amiss when it comes to what’s actually happening for far too many Marylanders. Take a look at these statistics from the Maryland Department of Health comparing minority populations to whites:

  • Black women are 39 percent more likely to die from breast cancer
  • Black men and women are 26 percent more likely to die from stroke
  • Infant mortality is 2.5 times higher among black babies
  • Asians are more than 18 percent more likely to acquire tuberculosis
  • Hispanics are 41 percent more likely to have diabetes

The data are sobering. They suggest that, despite our best intentions as caregivers, and major strides toward delivering health care equitably, disparities in health continue.

We need to turn the tide.

This month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health celebrated National Minority Health Month, highlighting partnerships at all levels that reduce health disparities.

A few years ago, Maryland achieved acclaim for being the first state in the nation to have 100 percent of its hospitals sign the American Hospital Association’s Equity of Care pledge, to begin work to reduce health disparities. Since then, work on this front has been somewhat uneven. And the problems persist.

Since joining MHA in early March, I’ve been traveling across the state, visiting hospitals. I’ve seen truly impressive efforts by hospitals to partner with community-based caregivers, social services agencies, and faith organizations, all toward whole-person health for high-need patients and population-wide health improvement for communities. This laudable work must continue and grow.

In May, the Maryland Healthcare Education Institute will convene hospital Equity of Care leads to share experiences and discuss the business case for reducing health disparities. This is one way your MHA and its affiliates are working to help you with this goal. And we’re examining additional resources that might be helpful in the coming months and years.