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Collecting, Using, and Disseminating Health Data on Minority Populations

Data Collection


Thomas Perez, J.D., M.P.P., Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical Law Programs at the University of Maryland School of Law.

This session discussed the importance of collecting health data on minority populations. Thomas Perez provided an overview of what data are currently being collected and suggested improvements for access, collection, and analysis of the necessary data to make more informed policy decisions.

Perez emphasized that race and ethnicity data collection, including language preference, is legal and critically important to reducing racial and ethnic health disparities. While race and ethnicity data collection is not expressly required under any Federal statutes, Perez explained that States are authorized to require such data collection. He provided examples of States that have implemented data collection regulations and noted that California, in contrast, has a ballot initiative under consideration to prohibit the collection and use of race and ethnicity data.

Perez encouraged participants to be advocates for the collection and use of race and ethnicity data. In January 2001, as the Director of the Office of Civil Rights, Perez co-wrote a letter with then-Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher to several health-related organizations—such as the American Diabetes Association—encouraging the collection of race and ethnicity data.

Perez also shared his experience using race and ethnicity data with the Latino Health Initiative in Montgomery County, Maryland. Prompted by the county's 80 percent growth in its Latino population, and with $100,000 in county funding, a steering committee of stakeholders was formed that included public health professionals and researchers from Montgomery County and the District of Columbia to address the challenges posed by this rate of growth to the county's public health system. In its Blueprint for Latino Health in Montgomery County, Maryland, 2002-2006, the committee outlined what needs to be done in the county to address the issue of health disparities in the Latino community. Perez noted that the primary recommendation of the committee was to improve the collection, analysis and reporting of data for Latinos.

Perez concluded by emphasizing the importance of bi-partisan coalition building that includes researchers, community-based organizations, and State and local officials working together to achieve the common goal of eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities.

Additional Resources

Perez TE. The Civil Rights Dimension of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Status. Commission Paper prepared for the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Understanding and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care; Oct. 2001.

Perez TE, Satcher D. Letter from Thomas Perez, J.D. and David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D. to Bruce Zimmerman, M.D., American Diabetes Association about the need to racial/ethnic data collection. Jan. 2001.

Latino Health Initiative. Blueprint for Latino Health in Montgomery County, Maryland. Executive Summary, 2002-2006. Jan. 2002.

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