Joint Commission Journal Findings Urge Automation to Alleviate Racial, Ethnic Healthcare Disparities
Differences in the quality and safety of medical treatment that minorities receive could be reduced through the better use of health information technology (HIT), according to a new article published in the October 2011 issue of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.
The article, "Bridging the Digital Divide in Health Care: The Role of Health Information Technology in Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities," contends that the U.S. healthcare system is not designed to provide equitable care. The authors, led by Lenny López, MD, MDiv, MPH, assistant in health policy at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy, and faculty at the Disparities Solutions Center, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, strongly recommend development of an HIT infrastructure that addresses disparities in care from the start. How, exactly? López and his colleagues recommend that healthcare organizations take the following steps:
Automate and standardize the collection of race/ethnicity and language data.
Prioritize use of the data for identifying disparities and tailoring quality improvement efforts.
Focus HIT efforts to address fragmented care delivery for racial/ethnic minorities and limited-English-proficiency patients.
Develop focused computerized clinical decision support systems in clinical areas with significant health disparities.
Include input from racial/ethnic minorities and those with limited English proficiency in developing patient HIT tools.
The recommendations are intended to address the root causes for disparities in care for minority patients. Those root causes include patients having difficulty navigating the health care system, provider factors such as language barriers or cultural beliefs that hamper doctor-patient communication, and patient factors such as mistrust of the medical system.
"Racial and ethnic disparities in health care have been consistently documented in the diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of many common clinical conditions. There has been an acceleration of health information technology (HIT) implementation in the United States, with health carereform legislation including multiple provisions for collecting and using health information to improve and monitor quality and efficiency in health care," says Dr. López. "Despite an uneven and generally low level of implementation, research has demonstrated that HIT has the potential to improve quality of care and patient safety. If carefully designed and implemented, HIT also has the potential to eliminate disparities."
So it seems that as hospitals roll out new health information technology systems and expand the use of electronic health records, automatic and standardized collection of race/ethnicity/language data should be incorporated. Right? Is there any reason not to do this?