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Medical News & Perspectives |

Decades of Work to Reduce Disparities in Health Care Produce Limited Success

Rebecca Voelker
JAMA. 2008;299(12):1411-1413. doi:10.1001/jama.299.12.1411.
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The early weeks of 2008 brought discouraging news for advocates working to narrow health care disparities among racial and ethnic groups. In rapid succession, several studies published in January in peer-reviewed journals showed that despite decades of efforts to raise awareness about disparities and to reduce them, the gaps in some key treatment areas have not budged.

The latest findings build on years of research that has established the extent of inequalities in treatment for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and many other conditions. Cancer, for example, has been the focus of dozens of studies and a number of federal initiatives to document and reduce treatment disparities. However, a new analysis of 143 512 Medicare patients with breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancers shows that from 1992 to 2002, not only did treatment disparities persist, the magnitude of the disparities did not diminish (Gross CP et al. Cancer. 2008;112[4]:900-908).

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One way in which the National Healthcare Disparities Report examines disparities is by tracking core quality measures such as mammography rates. The 2007 report shows that for 16 core measures, more than 50% of disparities in quality care have not gotten smaller.

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