Why is it important to reduce disparities?

Beth Averbeck, MD; Associate Medical Director for Primary Care, HealthPartners

Why did HealthPartners start addressing health care disparities?

Well I think our journey in racial and economic disparities were started back even in the mid-80s. Minnesota was a community that welcomed refugees. In fact even when I started training, we had a clinic that still exists for the Center for International Health that was a clinic for new immigrants that came to the Twin Cities. As our community has become more diverse, we know that our patients aren’t just at one clinic, our diverse communities are throughout the Twin Cities area. In 2001, Crossing the Qualities Chasm was published and in 2002, Unequal Treatment was published and so we knew that there were disparities and in our commitment to improve care for all we need to improve care for all populations, the diverse populations we serve so that was the background in which we got started this work.

How did HealthPartners get started improving disparities?

In 2002, after the Unequal Treatment was published, we were also part of actually IHI’s Pursuing Perfection grant in the mid-2000s and one of the things we wanted to do was to take a step back and say if we were going to provide care, how do we provide all recommended care to all patients at every visit and really spent time looking at our work flows to identity all the different patients that we served. About that time we also went up on our electronic health record which gave us the capabilities to ask our patients their preferred language, their self identified race and our communities told us it was very important to have country of origin recorded and that way we could ask our patients recorded in our electronic health records so we only had to ask once. Then after about a two years of collecting the data, we were able to start looking at our quality improvement metrics by different cohorts and different segments. We started where we knew there were national disparities, that’s where we started looking at them in our own organization. We also did an organizational assessment back in 2003 to ask our clinicians and staff if they thought disparities existed. As you can imagine they said yes disparities exist but not in our organization. So for us to have our own data was really important because we could look at our own data and knew which communities we needed to outreach to in order for them to help us improve the care.

Why is it important to improve disparities?

In Minnesota and other communities across the united states, our communities are becoming more diverse and so even in Minnesota, three out of every four new people that come into the state to live are from communities of color. So if we want to provide health care for all in our state, we need to make sure we are providing health care for all communities, we know that there are disparities in care so for us to be able to recognize them in our own care system and then be able to provide all patients the opportunity to improve the health to the best that they can I think is our obligation and that’s why we’ve been really passionate around this work.