Health care reform’s promise will not be realized if it fails to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in care. The first step toward monitoring, identifying, and targeting the underlying causes of disparities is for health care organizations to collect and analyze data that adequately describe their populations. No single entity has the capacity to analyze disparities for the entire country, and one of the largest and most comprehensive sources of utilization — health insurance claims — lacks basic demographic data on the race and ethnic background of enrollees. It is therefore worthwhile to examine the status of data collection and future options.
Aside from vital statistics, health data including patients’ race or ethnic background are collected haphazardly. For example, most U.S. hospitals collect data on patients’ race or ethnic group, but few record this information systematically, and of course only a small fraction of people are hospitalized in any given year. Many more people visit doctors, but very few physician practices collect race and ethnic data routinely.
Weissman JS, Hasnain-Wynia R. Advancing health care equity through improved data collection. N. Engl. J. Med. 2011 Jun 16;364(24):2276–7.