Research has shown that minority Americans have poorer health outcomes (compared to whites) from preventable and treatable conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, and cancer. In addition to racial and ethnic disparities in health, there is also evidence of racial and ethnic disparities in health care. The Institute of Medicine Report Unequal Treatment remains the preeminent study of the issue of racial and ethnic disparities in health care in the United States. Unequal Treatment provided a series of general and specific recommendations to address such disparities in health care, focusing on a broad set of stakeholders including academic medicine. Academic medicine has several important roles in society, including providing primary and specialty medical services, caring for the poor and uninsured, engaging in research, and educating health professionals. Academic medicine should also provide national leadership by identifying innovations and creating solutions to the challenges our health care system faces in its attempt to deliver high-quality care to all patients.
Several of the recommendations of Unequal Treatment speak directly to the mission and roles of academic medicine. For instance, patient care can be improved by collecting and reporting data on patients’ race/ethnicity; education can minimize disparities by integrating cross-cultural education into health professions training; and research can help improve health outcomes by better identifying sources of disparities and promising interventions. These recommendations have clear and direct implications for academic medicine. Academic medicine must make the elimination of health care disparities a critical part of its mission, and provide national leadership by identifying quality improvement innovations and creating disparities solutions.