According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, health disparities are differences in health that are closely linked with social or economic disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater social and/or economic obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion. Groups currently experiencing poorer health status are expected to grow as a proportion of the total U.S. population; therefore, the future health of America as a whole will be influenced substantially by our success or failure in improving the health of these groups. A national focus on disparities in health status is particularly important as major changes unfold in the way in which health care is delivered and financed.
Eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health will require enhanced efforts at preventing disease, promoting health and delivering appropriate care. This will necessitate improved collection and use of standardized data to correctly identify all high risk populations and monitor the effectiveness of health interventions targeting these groups. Eliminating health disparities will also require new knowledge about the determinants of disease, causes of health disparities, and effective interventions for prevention and treatment. It will require improving access to the benefits of society, including quality preventive and treatment services, as well as innovative ways of working in partnership with health care systems, state and local governments, tribal governments, academia, national and community-based organizations, and communities. Hopkins GIM faculty are working on several health disparities focus areas identified by the Department of Health and Human Services--Cancer screening and management; Cardiovascular Disease; Diabetes; HIV/AIDS, and Patient-Provider Communication--with particular attention to the health of African Americans.