Minorities recipients of inferior health care

WASHINGTON _ Racial and ethnic minorities generally receive lower-quality health care and less intensive diagnostic services than white patients, even when their income, insurance and medical conditions are similar, according to a new government report released Wednesday.

The findings are “unacceptable” because they contribute to higher minority death rates for cancer, heart disease and HIV infection. That’s the conclusion of special committee of the Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report was mandated by Congress in the Minority Health Disparities Act of 2000 and is the third study this month to examine the unequal treatment of minority patients. The Congressional Black Caucus and the National Institutes of Health have both made the issue a top priority.

The Institute of Medicine’s 15-member panel found that minorities are less likely than whites to get proper heart medication, heart bypass surgery, kidney dialysis and transplants. The gap is greatest between African-Americans and whites.

The report highlights one of the most glaring and persistent problems facing a medical community that prides itself on quality care for all.

“We were amazed, some of us surprised and shocked, at the evidence of disparities,” said report committee chairman Dr. Alan Nelson, a former president of the American Medical Association and current advisor to the Washington-based American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

“The real challenge lies not in debating whether disparities exist, because the evidence is overwhelming, but in implementing strategies to reduce and eliminate them,” Nelson added.

The 562-page report on health care disparities is one of the harshest and most thorough examinations of an issue that has been widely discussed but not deeply explored in recent years.

Among the more dramatic findings cited by the panel are:

_A study of 11,000 lung cancer patients that found 76 percent of whites and only 64 percent of blacks got surgery for the disease. After five years, whites in the study had a 34 percent survival rate compared with 26 percent for blacks.

_A report on 13,000 heart patients that found 100 whites had surgery to clear congested arteries for every 74 blacks.

_A study of nearly 16,000 urban emergency room visitors that found blacks 50 percent more likely than whites to be denied coverage by their health plans.

The report recommends more research into medical provider bias; better data collection on minority patient care; more cross-cultural training for health care personnel; wider use of language translators. It also calls for more minority doctors and more money for medical civil rights investigations by the Department of Health and Human Services.