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A “How To” Guide for MA Hospitals: Erase “Color” of Care

January 28, 2009

Boston, MA – Hospitals nationwide are getting a "how to" guide on eliminating the well-documented gap in the quality of care based on race and ethnicity. The advice comes from the Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital; improvements suggested include diversity in the work force, availability of interpreters, and cultural training.

Center Director Dr. Joe Betancourt says erasing the gaps in care won't happen overnight, but progress will be tracked.

"At the end of the day we want to begin to reduce these very significant gaps in diabetes-related death rates, infant mortality, and asthma prevalence by race and ethnicity."

Dr. Betancourt looks for the guarantee that people should know, no matter what the color of their skin, or what language they speak, that when they walk into a hospital they can expect the highest quality of care.

Center Senior Faculty Dr. Roderick King notes that, sometimes, hospital leaders deny that disparities exist, but he says they can be found if you look. And some looking was done at Mass General.

"We found that Latino diabetics were not doing as well – lower rates of control for their diabetes, and poorer outcomes overall."

Now, medical personnel are taking a coaching approach with patients and working to identify ways to better educate and communicate.

Associate Director Dr. Alex Green feels hospitals should be compelled to make sure everyone receives gold standard care. It affects the bottom line if hospitals are ranked poorly, and can even cut into federal Medicaid reimbursements if it appears patients have not received the best treatment.

"Hospitals are trying to improve the quality of care that they provide for patients. You can't really provide high quality care without addressing disparities."

The guide has already been downloaded by more than 200 hospitals. The Disparities Solutions Center is a founding member of the Disparities Action Network, a coalition at Health Care For All working to eliminate health care disparities.

Deborah Smith/Deb Courson, Public News Service - MA