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Bridging the Digital Divide in Health Care: The Role of Health Information Technology in Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities

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Abstract:

Background: Racial and ethnic disparities in health care have been consistently documented in the diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes of many common clinical conditions. There has been an acceleration of health information technology (HIT) implementation in the United States, with health care reform legislation including multiple provisions for collecting and using health information to improve and monitor quality and efficiency in health care. Despite an uneven and generally low level of implementation, research has demonstrated that HIT has the potential to improve quality of care and patient safety. If carefully designed and implemented, HIT also has the potential to eliminate disparities.

HIT and Disparities: Several root causes for disparities are amenable to interventions using HIT, particularly innovations in electronic health records, as well as strategies for chronic disease management. Recommendations regarding health care system, provider, and patient factors can help health care organizations address disparities as they adopt, expand, and tailor their HIT systems. In terms of health care system factors, organizations should (1) automate and standardize the collection of race/ethnicity and language data, (2) prioritize the use of the data for identifying disparities and tailoring improvement efforts, (3) focus HIT efforts to address fragmented care delivery for racial/ethnic minorities and limited-English-proficiency patients, (4) develop focused computerized clinical decision support systems for clinical areas with significant disparities, and (5) include input from racial/ethnic minorities and those with limited English proficiency in developing patient HIT tools to address the digital divide.

Conclusions: As investments are made in HIT, consideration must be given to the impact that these innovations have on the quality and cost of health care for all patients, including those who experience disparities.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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