Background: Race and ethnicity are used as predictors of outcome in health services research. Often, however, race and ethnicity serve merely as proxies for the resources, values, beliefs, and behaviors (ie, ecology and culture) that are assumed to correlate with them. "Unpacking" proxy variables-directly measuring the variables believed to underlie them-would provide a more reliable and more interpretable way of looking at group differences.
Objective: To assess the use of a measure of ecocultural domains that is correlated with ethnicity in accounting for variance in adherence, quality of life, clinical outcomes, and service utilization.
Design: A cross-sectional observational study.
Participants: Twenty-six Hispanic and 29 non-Hispanic white VA primary care patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Measures: The independent variables were patient ethnicity and a summed score of ecocultural domains representing patient adaptation to illness. The outcomes were adherence to treatment, health-related quality of life, clinical indicators of disease management, and utilization of urgent health care services.
Results: Patient adaptation was correlated with ethnicity and accounted for more variance in all outcomes than did ethnicity. The unique variance accounted for by adaptation was small to moderate, whereas that accounted for by ethnicity was negligible.
Conclusions: It is possible to identify and measure ecocultural domains that better account for variation in important health services outcomes for patients with type 2 diabetes than does ethnicity. Going beyond the study of ethnic differences alone and measuring the correlated factors that play a role in disease management can advance understanding of the phenomena involved in this variation and provide better direction for service design and delivery.