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Studies continue to show racial disparities in health care

Despite years of efforts to eliminate racial disparities in health care, studies continue to show African Americans get far fewer operations, tests, medicines and other lifesaving treatments than whites. In three major studies published today, data indicates that while some progress has occurred, significant gaps still exist.

In certain aspects, African American health care has started to catch up to whites', but blacks remain much less likely to undergo heart bypasses, appendectomies and other common procedures. Black Americans receive fewer mammograms and basic tests and drugs for heart disease and diabetes. In addition, studies show they have fallen even further behind whites in controlling heart disease and diabetes – two major killers.

The studies are the first attempts to measure efforts made in the last decade to improve quality of care and help African Americans live equally long and healthy lives, and according to Ashish Jha of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led one of the studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, little progress has been made. Jha said they had hoped greater attention on the inconsistent medical care in recent years would yield greater improvements.

In the past, studies found blacks and other racial minorities are much less likely than whites to receive many types of medical care and are significantly more likely to become ill, tend to experience more complications and take longer to recover when they get sick. They are also more likely to give way to their illnesses and generally die younger.

According to David Williams of the University of Michigan, “these persistent disparities are saying that systematically, based on an individual's skin color, Americans are still treated very differently by our health care system.” The topic has been the focus of much research and debate, and there are many factors that could be contributing to the persistent disparity between medical care, including the fact that blacks and other minorities tend to be poorer and less educated.

Still, the most heated debate has centered on whether subtle racism has affected the care being given to different minority groups.


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