Over the five years of the study, defect-free care overall was 81 percent for whites, 79.5 percent for Hispanics and 77.7 percent for blacks. These differences resulted from the unequal care given during the early years of the study, Cohen said.
"These findings are reassuring," Cohen said. "We need to engage hospitals in quality monitoring and improvement programs," he added.
Dr. Nakela L. Cook, from the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and author of an accompanying journal editorial, said that eliminating 100 percent of disparities in care is a worthy goal, however, other factors in addition to quality assurance programs also play a role.
"This study does not take into account the many factors that we use to estimate quality of care," she said. "Such factors may include health literacy, economic status, and social support. Addressing these factors may be crucial to eliminating disparities."
In addition, there may be a misperception that disparities are disappearing, she said. "The authors did see that disparities in these measures disappear over the time. However, these measures evaluate short-term aspects of care, and while important in their own right, they are limited in their ability to predict long-term outcomes in disparities," Cook said.
Cook added that it is not clear that this quality improvement program alone eliminated disparities. "It is possible that increased attention to disparities in these hospitals may have resulted in other programs that are not assessed in this study," she said.
Disparities in care are a significant problem, Cook
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