Once in the doctor's office, racial and ethnic disparities in care nearly disappear: Stanford study

STANFORD, Calif. - A new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine has found that once U.S. patients visit a doctor for outpatient care, their race and ethnicity make little difference in the quality of care they receive. But the study also found that health-care providers have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to caring for all of their patients. In fact, it suggests there were only limited improvements in outpatient care during the 10-year study period.

"We observed similar, though less-than-optimal, outpatient care across all racial and ethnic groups using visit-based, physician-provided national data," said Jun Ma, MD, PhD, research associate at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and lead author of the study that appears in the June 27 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The results should be interpreted carefully, Ma said, as the data set represents only a small snapshot of the nation's health-care landscape-namely, those who obtained care in the first place.

Ma and her collaborator Randall Stafford MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine, designed the study to fill in some details on outpatient care missing from two annual government reports: the National Healthcare Quality Report, and the National Healthcare Disparities Report. These reports collectively documented both a substandard level of care from providers across the country, and a pervasive gap in quality between whites and minorities. For example, the disparities report found that minorities are more likely than whites to die from HIV/AIDS, and they are also less likely to receive routine childhood immunizations.

While their study confirms a suboptimal quality of outpatient care overall, Ma and Stafford were surprised by the results regarding equality of care. "When we set out to do the study, we expected to see these disparities," Ma said. "But our result was contrary to our hypothesis."

The researchers compared outpatient dat


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