MGH Hotline 10.29.10 It is difficult to pinpoint how, where, why or when health care disparities began.

MGH Disparities Solutions Center delves into history of health care disparities


DISPARITIES SOLUTIONS: Bottom row, from left, Byrd and Clayton. Top row, from left, Landry, Beth Gerard, BA, MM, senior research assistant for Byrd and Clayton, Alexander Green, MD, MPH, associate director of the DSC, and Betancourt

It is difficult to pinpoint how, where, why or when health care disparities began. But as the issue has evolved over time, historians and medical providers have taken a step back and reviewed in broad measures several of the foundational beginnings. Recently, the MGH Disparities Solutions Center (DSC) presented such an overview at the "Racial and Ethnic Disparities: Looking Back" series with special guests W. Michael Byrd, MD, MPH, and Linda A. Clayton, MD, MPH, both DSC associates, instructors at the Harvard School of Public Health, and authors of "An American Health Dilemma -- A Medical History of African Americans and the Problem of Race: Beginnings to 1900, Volume One."

More than 110 guests attended the Oct. 5 talk, "Racial and Ethnic Disparities and Dysfunction in Health and Health Care: Historical and Contemporary Issues," in the Bigelow Amphitheater. Joseph R. Betancourt, MD, MPH, director of the DSC, welcomed attendees and Byrd and Clayton, whom he acknowledged as nationally renowned for their research on health care disparities.

Clayton opened the presentation by providing an overview of some of the talk's objectives, which included dispelling myths that impede appropriate action toward eliminating disparities, providing relevant definitions and concepts around cultural competence, and giving a snapshot of disparate health outcomes in Massachusetts. She also provided in-depth information about health care reform efforts and their perspective on a "widespread health system destabilization," as it relates to a racial, ethnic and disadvantaged health and health care crisis. Byrd then offered his insight into the origins, evolution and perpetuation of today's racial and ethnic health and health care disparities and provided extensive background about the medical, public health, economic and social systems and cultures in which disparities arose. He concluded by offering several general recommendations that may help bring about a more equitable health system.

Aetna/DSC Healthcare Disparities Fellow Alden Landry, MD, MPH, said of the event, "Our distinguished guests' presentation was not only extensive and rich in information and insight, but it was also very timely and helpful in offering background for understanding the issue of health and health care disparities. We are extremely grateful to Drs. Byrd and Clayton for their contributions to health care."

For more information about the DSC, access


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