Collecting Race, Ethnicity, and Language Data to Identify and Reduce Health Disparities

Perceptions of Health Plan Enrollees

This study looks at the practice of collecting race, ethnicity, and primary language data of health plan members which has been recognized as an important step in addressing disparities in health care. The authors conducted six focus groups with 54 individuals in 2008 that included White, Black, Asian, Portuguese-speaking, Spanish-speaking and Latino English-speaking individuals. They analyzed the transcripts of the focus groups to qualitatively explore respondents’ perspectives on the collection of racial, ethnic and language data.

Key Findings:

  • The majority of participants (67%) expressed concern about health plans collecting and using racial and ethnic data. Many individuals worried that this information could be used to deny services to minority groups. Respondents were more receptive to collection of racial and ethnic data by individual physicians than to collection by health plans. Spanish-speaking and Asian respondents were the most likely to identify privacy and confidentiality as major concerns.
  • Many respondents identified potential benefits to collecting racial and ethnic data, including providing culturally competent care and employing physicians with the same racial and ethnic backgrounds as health plan members.
  • Participants were not concerned about the collection of data on language.

This research indicates that patients have significant reservations about the collection of racial and ethnic data by health plans, but that individuals also acknowledge potential benefits of this data collection.