Health plans can employ multiple methods for collecting data on members' races, ethnicities and primary languages. Strategies for obtaining data fall into two broad categories: direct data collection methods and indirect data collection methods.
View Table 2: Strategies for data collection (opens in new window)
A single best practice or method for collecting race, ethnicity and language data may not be the most effective way to conceptualize data collection methods since real world experience suggests that no single method is sufficient for obtaining these data for a plan's entire membership. Indeed, the experience of plans participating in the National Health Plan Collaborative (NHPC) indicates that combined methods are needed to obtain complete and accurate information in the current environment. Ideally, the barriers to obtaining race, ethnicity and language data, and the need for plans to draw on so many diverse sources, will rapidly diminish as local and national efforts to establish consistent standards and rules for data collection and related information technology infrastructure improve. Table 2 illustrates the various methods that NHPC members are using or are considering using in the near future to collect race, ethnicity and language data.
Each method has various advantages and disadvantages. Health plan contextual factors, such as infrastructure capacity and overall strategy, play an important role in determining the ideal method or mix of methods for collecting race, ethnicity and language information. For example, plans such as Kaiser Permanente and HealthPartners, which feature integrated delivery systems in which they own clinics and employ the staff, may be well positioned to have physicians or clinic staff obtain race, ethnicity and language data when they encounter members at office visits. In contrast, network model HMOs, even if large, such as WellPoint, Inc. or UnitedHealth Group, may have a harder time compelling contracted providers to routinely obtain race, ethnicity and language data during encounters since most of those providers contract with numerous other plans which may not encourage this data collection.
The following section outlines the various data collection methods and describes associated advantages and disadvantages to consider when contemplating the combination of strategies that may be most suitable. For a comparison table of the various methods of data collection, including advantages, disadvantages and reliability of the various methods, please click here.