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Strategies for Reducing Disparities

Promising Strategies

Racial and ethnic disparities have complex causes that are not easy to address. Because of this complexity, the Institute of Medicine recommends the use of interventions that are systematic, coordinated, and address multiple levels. Some strategies that have some evidence of effectiveness include:

Data collection and monitoring

The availability of standardized and high quality data in health care on demographics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and language is critical for addressing health disparities. Data analysis helps to identify disparities for specifc populations. It also allows for monitoring the impact of efforts to reduce disparities

New HHS Data Standards for Race, Ethnicity, Sex, Primary Language, and Disability.

For the new Federal data collection standards and a brief explanation, click here

Multidisciplinary treatment and prevention teams

The use of multidisciplinary teams is a practice that is demonstrating some effectiveness at improving health care for racial and ethnic minorities. A multidisciplinary team consists of a team of health professionals with different types of expertise. For example, a team might consist of a nurse, a community health worker, a social worker, physician, etc. Research suggests that one of the most effective ways of improving health while improving quality and reducing costs for chronic care conditions is through the implementation of multidisciplinary teams.

Use of community health workers

The Institute of Medicine and the US Department of Health and Human Services recommend the use of community health workers as a strategy to reduce disparities. Community health workers (also known as promotores in the Latino community) are trained lay people who provide a link between their community and the health care system, thus supporting the health of the community they serve. They provide services such as health education, system navigation, health promotion, and prevention services. Studies have shown the effectiveness of community health workers in reducing racial and ethnic disparities.

Integration of behavioral health in primary care

Integration of behavioral health and primary care is promoted as a strategy to reduce disparities by improving access to behavioral health services for people who might not otherwise access these services due to stigma. Integration improves access to primary care for individuals living with persistent and serious mental health conditions. Initial research indicates its effectiveness at reducing health care disparities.

Addressing the social determinants of health

Increasingly, there is recognition of the need to address the social determinants of health to help eliminate disparities. The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people live and work that have an impact on health. These conditions (such as availability of safe places for exercise and of fresh food) can have a significant impact on health status and access to quality care.

Culturally relevant services

The use of culturally and linguistically relevant services has been found to make a difference in health disparities. Culturally relevant services include a spectrum of services that increase the fit of the service to the cultural and linguistic needs and expectations of the people served. These may include utilizing interpreters and translated materials, targeting a service to general characteristics of a particular group, using traditional approaches to healing, and individually tailoring a service to the unique cultural characteristics of the individual.

The Health Care Law and You: In-Language Resources

The Affordable Care Act benefits have been translated by the Office of Public Engagement at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services into the following languages: Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Hindi, Bengali, Hmong, Khmer, Laotian, Samoan and Tongan. To learn more, please click here

Quality improvement approaches

Another approach showing promising results for reducing racial and ethnic health disparities is the application of quality improvement methods. This approach involves establishing a plan for improvement and using data to track the impact of improvements and making adjustments as needed. Specifically targeting health disparities in quality improvement work offers a structured approach that has shown effectiveness for making real progress towards reducing disparities.

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