A system for rapidly and accurately collecting patients' race and ethnicity

Am J Public Health. 2006 Mar;96(3):532-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2005.062620. Epub 2006 Jan 31.


Objectives: We assessed the feasibility of collecting race/ethnicity data from patients using their own preferred racial/ethnic terms.

Methods: The 424 patients described their race/ethnicity using their own categories, and we compared their descriptions with their responses to the questions (1) "Do you consider yourself Latino or Hispanic?" and (2) "Which category best describes your race?" (7 response options in our computer interview). We also determined patients' preferences between the 2 approaches.

Results: The proportions of patients who described themselves with 1, 2, 3, or 4 terms were 46%, 33%, 14%, and 6%, respectively; 2 said only "American" (1%,) and 1 refused to answer (0.5%). The average completion time was 37 +/- 17 seconds. Rates of missing values and categorization as "other" race were lower than with the closed questions. Agreement between racial/ethnic categorization with open-ended and closed responses was 93% (kappa =0.88). Latino/Hispanic and multiracial/multiethnic individuals were more likely to prefer using their own categories to describe their race/ethnicity.

Conclusions: Collecting race/ethnicity data using patients' own racial/ethnic categories is feasible with the use of computerized systems to capture verbatim responses and results in lower rates of missing and unusable data than do standard questions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ethnicity / classification*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction / ethnology
  • Patients / classification*
  • Public Health Practice*
  • Racial Groups / classification*
  • United States