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August 11, 2015

Racial Bias in Health Care and Health: Challenges and Opportunities

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • 3The Joint Commission, Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois
JAMA. 2015;314(6):555-556. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.9260

A landmark report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2003 documented that from the simplest to the most technologically advanced diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, African American (or black) individuals and those in other minority groups receive fewer procedures and poorer-quality medical care than white individuals.1 These differences existed even after statistical adjustment for variations in health insurance, stage and severity of disease, income or education, comorbid disease, and the type of health care facility. Very limited progress has been made in reducing racial/ethnic disparities in the quality and intensity of care.2 The IOM report concluded that multiple factors contribute to racial disparities in medical care and that unconscious bias by health care professionals contributes to deficits in the quality of care. This Viewpoint discusses the potential contribution of societal racial bias to disparities in health care and health status.

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