Objectives: To better understand the causes of racial disparities in health care, we reviewed and synthesized existing evidence related to disparities in the "equal access" Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system.
Methods: We systematically reviewed and synthesized evidence from studies comparing health care utilization and quality by race within the VA.
Results: Racial disparities in the VA exist across a wide range of clinical areas and service types. Disparities appear most prevalent for medication adherence and surgery and other invasive procedures, processes that are likely to be affected by the quantity and quality of patient-provider communication, shared decision making, and patient participation. Studies indicate a variety of likely root causes of disparities including: racial differences in patients' medical knowledge and information sources, trust and skepticism, levels of participation in health care interactions and decisions, and social support and resources; clinician judgment/bias; the racial/cultural milieu of health care settings; and differences in the quality of care at facilities attended by different racial groups.
Conclusions: Existing evidence from the VA indicates several promising targets for interventions to reduce racial disparities in the quality of health care.