Thirty years of disparities intervention research: what are we doing to close racial and ethnic gaps in health care?

Med Care. 2013 Nov;51(11):1020-6. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e3182a97ba3.


Background: A systematic scan of the disparities intervention literature will allow researchers, providers, and policymakers to understand which interventions are being evaluated to improve minority health and which areas require further research.

Methods: We systematically categorized 391 disparities intervention articles published between 1979 and 2011, covering 11 diseases. We developed a taxonomy of disparities interventions using qualitative theme analysis. We identified the tactic, or what was done to intervene; the strategy, or a group of tactics with common characteristics; and the level, or who was targeted by the effort.

Results: The taxonomy included 44 tactics, 9 strategies, and 6 levels. Delivering education and training was the most common strategy (37%). Within education and training, the most common tactics were education about disease (14%) and self-management (11%), whereas communication skills training (3%) and decision-making aids (1%) were less frequent. The strategy of actively engaging the community through tactics such as community health workers and outreach efforts accounted for 6.5% of tactics. Interventions most commonly targeted patients (50%) and community members who were not established patients of the intervening organization (32%). Interventions targeting providers (7%), the microsystem (immediate care team) (9%), organizations (3%), and policies (0.1%) were less common.

Conclusions: Disparities researchers have predominantly focused on the patient as the target for change; future research should also investigate how to improve the system that serves minority patients. Areas for further study include interventions that engage the community, educational interventions that address communication barriers, and the impact of policy reform on disparities in care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Communication
  • Community Health Services / organization & administration
  • Decision Making
  • Ethnicity*
  • Health Services Research*
  • Healthcare Disparities / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Patient Compliance
  • Patient Education as Topic / organization & administration
  • Racial Groups*
  • Self Care