Health Care Disparities in Emergency Medicine


Yale Emergency Medicine, Suite 260, 464 Congress Avenue, New Haven, CT 06519-1315. Fax: 203-785-4580; e-mail:


The Institute of Medicine's landmark report, “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care,” documents the pervasiveness of racial and ethnic disparities in the U.S. health care delivery system, and provides several recommendations to address them. It is clear from research data, such as those demonstrating racial and ethnic disparities in emergency department (ED) pain management, that emergency medicine (EM) is not immune to this problem. The IOM authors describe two strategies that can reduce disparities in EM. First, workforce diversity is likely to result in a community of emergency physicians who are better prepared to understand, learn from, and collaborate with persons from other racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, whether these be patients, fellow clinicians, or the larger medical and scientific community. Given the ethical and practical advantages of a more diverse EM workforce, continued and expanded initiatives to increase diversity within EM should be undertaken. Second, the specialty's educational programs should produce emergency physicians with the skills and knowledge needed to serve an increasingly diverse population. This cultural competence should include an awareness of existing racial and ethnic health disparities, recognition of the risks of stereotyping and biased treatment, and knowledge of the incidence and prevalence of health conditions among diverse populations. Culturally competent emergency care providers also possess the skills to identify and manage racial and ethnic differences in health values, beliefs, and behaviors with the ultimate goal of delivering quality health services to all patients cared for in EDs.