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Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2005 Sep 15;62(18):1873-82.

Health disparities: a barrier to high-quality care.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, Baltimore 21201, USA.



Disparities in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and cancer among the sexes and racial groups and possible interventions are discussed.


The ongoing process to identify and reduce health disparities has engaged numerous federal agencies as they monitor the nation's progress toward policy-driven and health-related objectives. Cardiovascular disease disproportionately affects minority groups and is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, and both groups receive suboptimal care for the disease. Disparities in the treatment of diabetes mellitus in African Americans, women, patients with less than a high school education, and the elderly have been found. Many minority groups continue to suffer disproportionately from cancer. Racial disparities also exist in cancer screening and treatment. Minorities are underrepresented in clinical trials for multiple reasons, many of which may be related to cultural beliefs. At all levels of coinsurance, the poor are less likely to seek preventive care. Adherence to national screening and treatment guidelines, clinical trial recruitment and participation, addressing language and geographic barriers, and increasing access to insurance are part of the coordinated efforts required to reduce health disparities. Because pharmacists influence patients' health status directly through pharmaceutical care and indirectly by engaging patients in their treatment, it is essential for pharmacists to be able to provide culturally competent care.


Despite significant efforts over the past several years, health disparities continue to exist, particularly among minority groups. Interventions aimed at eliminating these disparities should include ensuring cultural competence among health care providers and improving health literacy among patients.

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