Black-white disparities in health care

JAMA. 1990 May 2;263(17):2344-6. doi: 10.1001/jama.1990.03440170066038.


Persistent, and sometimes substantial, differences continue to exist in the quality of health among Americans. Blacks have higher infant mortality rates and shorter life expectancies than whites. Underlying the disparities in the quality of health among Americans are differences in both need and access. Moreover, recent studies have suggested that even when blacks gain access to the health care system, they are less likely than whites to receive certain surgical or other therapies. These studies have examined treatments in several area, including cardiology and cardiac surgery, kidney transplantation, general internal medicine, and obstetrics. Whether the disparities in treatment decisions are caused by differences in income and education, sociocultural factors, or failures by the medical profession, they are unjustifiable and must be eliminated. In this report, the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs of the American Medical Association emphasizes the need for (1) greater access to necessary health care for black Americans, (2) greater awareness among physicians of existing and potential disparities in treatment, and (3) the continued development of practice parameters, including criteria that would preclude or diminish racial disparities in health care decisions.

KIE: This policy report submitted to the American Medical Association's House of Delegates at the 1989 Interim meeting, by the AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, reviews the findings of recent studies of disparities in health and health care between black and white Americans. Study findings document differences in need and access to care, and in the kinds of treatment recommended and provided in areas such as cardiology and cardiac surgery, kidney transplantation, general internal medicine, and obstetrics. The report concludes that such racial disparities among Americans in treatment decisions are unjustifiable, and recommends approaches to their elimination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • African Americans*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Patient Selection
  • Resource Allocation
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vulnerable Populations*