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MLK, Jr. Health Equity Summit opens as memorial to Dr. King is unveiled in DC

Washington, DC, Aug. 22The Martin Luther King, Jr. Health Equity Summit, convened by the Institute for the Advancement of Multicultural and Minority Medicine (IAMMM), opens today as the long-awaited Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is unveiled and opens to the public on the National Mall. Both events rivet public attention on human rights: the Summit focusing tightly on the health status of minorities and populations in low-resource countries and achieving health equity at the lowest cost. The Summit, a two-day event, opens with an address from Harry E. Johnson, president of The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation. On 'day two' of the Summit, a panel on health information technology (HIT) featuring one of the nation's most prominent advocates of computer-assisted health care and the science of informatics, Edward H. Shortliffe, MD, PhD, FACMI, will address Summit participants.

In his remarks, Dr. Shortliffe, president and CEO of AMIA, the association for informatics professionals, will discuss how electronic medical records and Internet-enabled tools such as patient websites and personal health records hold great potential for improving care for all populations, especially those with chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease. However, he also will point to a growing body of evidence that suggests that these same technologies could inadvertently increase existing health disparities if the benefits are available primarily to those who have the technical access, skills, supports, and incentives to use them.

Dr. Shortliffe observes that, "At-risk populations tend to be served by under-resourced providers who themselves often lack the costly and sophisticated health information technology systems that support patient safety and quality improvements. Without society's rigorous attention to this issue, the 'digital divide' can separate people who are not technologically enabled from optimum healthcare delivery, and accordingly, from attaining optimal health."

Dr. Shortliffe refers to a Roundtable on Health Disparities held earlier this year by Kaiser Permanente, AMIA, and the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to focus on public and private policies and practice strategies that could mitigate potential disparities in the use of HIT. Also central to the meeting were the roles of health plans and health systems in addressing the issues, and relevant research priorities. More information about that event is available online at

"Because technology can cause unintended disparities," adds Dr. Shortliffe, "it is critical that health policy leaders, public health agencies, provider organizations, and practitioners all work to assure that equitable and effective implementation of clinical systems and health information resources serves a broad community, regardless of education and economic background, both domestically and in the global health arena."


Contact: Nancy Light
American Medical Informatics Association

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