My colleague, Dr. John Carethers, chair of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, released a study last month that found African-Americans with colon cancer are half as likely as Caucasian patients to have a type of colon cancer that is linked to better outcomes. This finding may provide insight into why African-Americans are more likely to die of colon cancer than whites in the same stage of the disease (PLOS ONE, June 28, 2014).
Today, we have much within our power that we need to reduce health disparities, and to finally bring about our true American legacy of equality and justice for all. Those of us in the healthcare system—doctors, nurses, social workers, researchers, physician assistants, medical technicians and others—must open our eyes to care disparities based on factors that should not matter: age, income, where the patient lives, race, or place of birth, to name a few.
Patients must also educate themselves to better understand how their personal socio-cultural history too often does affect the type of healthcare they receive.
In an effort to capture critical regional and national data on health disparities, my department at U-M—the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion—has launched a healthcare-equity research effort. Data we collect will be used to help transform healthcare delivery by our U-M providers initially, but will ultimately be shared with healthcare providers, academics, other researchers and medical associations across the country.
Our goal is greater freedom for patients who most often suffer silently. Eventually, every person in this county will be a patient. It is our commitment that when you do seek medical care, your experience will be equitable, color-blind and free from other forms of disparity.
Let's work together to make sure we all have equitable healthcare, a particularly patriotic notion. Together we can write the new American legacy of healthcare.
Take the next step at www.healthyconversation.org.
Dr. Carmen R. Green is associate vice president and associate dean for Health Equity and Inclusion at the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor. She is also a professor of anesthesiology, obstetrics and gynecology at the U-M Medical School and professor of health management and policy at the U-M School of Public Health.