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New Commission on Health Care Disparities Lauded by American College of Physicians

ACP Calls Elimination of Disparities a "Strategic Priority" for the Organization

Washington (Feb. 29, 2008) – Noting that its Board of Regents last month added "health care disparities" as one of its strategic priorities, the American College of Physicians (ACP) today commended the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for launching the Commission to Build a Healthier America.

"The American College of Physicians continues to realize the importance of eliminating health care disparities through its Board actions, policy papers, educational sessions, as well as the work of the ACP Foundation," said David C. Dale, MD, FACP, president of ACP. "ACP believes that the Commission to Build a Healthier America will provide a much-needed framework for a broad national effort to research the reasons behind health care disparities and to develop workable solutions."

The national, independent and nonpartisan two-year health commission introduced on Thursday will focus on factors outside the health care system and identify non-medical, evidence-based strategies to improve the health of all Americans. The group will investigate how factors, such as education, environment, income and housing, shape and affect personal behavioral choices through an extensive inquiry that will include field hearings.

ACP is addressing health care disparities in its public policy, research and educational initiatives.

In a 2003 position paper, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care (available upon request), ACP emphasized its long-standing commitment to improving public health. In the paper, ACP said that "Eliminating health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities will take the efforts of all involved in the practice of health care delivery. ACP sees the need to address these disparities on six fronts: increasing access to quality health care, patient care, provider issues, systems that deliver health care, societal concerns, and continued research."

ACP is also working to reduce barriers created by limited language proficiency. Fifty-two million people, 19.4 percent of the U.S. population, speak a language other than English at home. Of these, 44.6 percent speak English "less than very well." Estimates of the number of people with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) range from 11 million to 21 million people. To determine whether internal medicine practices of ACP members provide language services and to better ensure effective communication for LEP patients, the College conducted a survey of its members during late 2006.

The survey findings and interpretations resulted in a 2007 College position paper, Language Services for Patients with Limited English Proficiency: Results of a National Survey of Internal Medicine Physicians.

Also in the last year, the ACP Foundation recognized in its Rx Container Label White Paper that patients with health literacy challenges and limited English proficiency are more likely to have an adverse drug effect.

And ACP has scheduled a session for its upcoming annual meeting, IM 2008, entitled Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care: Lessons for Clinical Practice.

Last December, an early-released article, Achieving a High Performance Health Care System with Universal Access: What the United States Can Learn From Other Countries, from ACP’s flagship publication, Annals of Internal Medicine, examined "Equity" by saying: "A well-functioning system would have minimal differences among groups in terms of access to and quality of health care services" The paper cited a finding from the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health Care System that it "would require a 24 percent or greater improvement in African-American mortality, quality, access and efficiency indicators to approach benchmark white rates."

In addition, ACP has championed the Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) as one proven model for reducing health care disparities. "One of the reasons ACP has made the 'patient-centered medical home' one of its top priorities is the effects the PCMH will have on patient access, outcomes and care," Dr. Dale said. "The Commonwealth Fund Health Care Quality Survey recently pointed out that, when patients have a medical home, racial and ethnic disparities in terms of access to and quality of care are reduced or eliminated."

ACP pledged to make its public policy position papers, research on limited English language proficiency and health illiteracy, educational activities, and other initiatives to eliminate health care disparities available to the Commission to Build a Healthier America. "ACP hopes to partner with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Commission to research, design and implement strategies to eliminate disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity or language proficiency—one of our top strategic priorities for the College," concluded Dr. Dale.


The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include 125,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection, and treatment of illness in adults.

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