How Can Physicians Close the Disparity Gap?

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media , May 5, 2011

In Chelsea, MA, two miles from Massachusetts General Hospital, hospital officials found differences in diabetes control in Latino and white populations. While 24% of the white population had diabetes, 37% of Latinos had it, he says. To improve patient conditions, a coaching program was established in which a doctor and coach worked in tandem to address the problems, Betancourt says.

 Too often, physicians don't acknowledge they need help in assessing racial or ethnic disparity issues. Some may say, "I only have 15 minutes to see a patient and 'how can I get to all these cultural issues?"

"This is really about excellence in clinical care and really [about being]  a more effective clinician," Betancourt says, referring to guidelines to help physicians and hospitals address disparity concerns. "And as much as we can get that message out, we can get greater provider buy-in."

Unfortunately, he says, some things don't change fast enough.

"We have a one-size-fits-all mentality and we leave a lot of people out of the way in which we deliver care," he says. "We need to figure out ways to improve quality, how to customize our services to meet the needs of a diverse population," he says. "It doesn't have to be minorities. It can be the elderly." For physicians and hospitals, "that's sometimes challenging and to overcome that is going to distinguish the leaders from the followers," Betancourt says.

Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.
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