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VOLUME 47 | NUMBER 3.2 | JUNE 2012


Taking the Measure of Health Care Disparities

Despite growing public and private efforts to reduce disparities in health care, these disparities persist in the United States. Soon after the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Unequal Treatment report systematically documented disparities in multiple components of the health care system (Smedley, Stith and Nelson 2003), Congress mandated the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to monitor national trends in health care disparities through the annual National Healthcare Disparities Report (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality 2011). For health services researchers and policy makers, numerous methodological challenges have arisen in identifying disparities in health care, tracking them over time, understanding their underlying mechanisms, and evaluating the effects of practices and policies to reduce them.

This special issue of Health Services Research is devoted to highlighting challenges in the measurement of disparities in health care and exploring innovative approaches to address these challenges. The articles in this issue arose from a conference on “Methodological and Conceptual Issues in the Measurement of Healthcare Disparities” convened at Harvard University in February 2010. This conference was jointly organized by the Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research of the Cambridge Health Alliance through a Disparity Center funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and by the Health Disparities Research Program of Harvard Catalyst. The conference featured presentations and multidisciplinary dialog among researchers who assess health care disparities from multiple perspectives, including health services research, economics, sociology, biostatistics, medicine, and public health. The conference also elucidated conceptual and methodological challenges that the field needs to address. Financial support for the conference and publication of this special issue was provided by the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Mental Health, and Harvard Catalyst, the NIH-funded Clinical and Translational Sciences Center of Harvard University.

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