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National Healthcare Disparities Report, 2005

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Chapter 1. Introduction and Methods

In 1999, Congress directed the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to produce an annual report, starting in 2003, to track "prevailing disparities in health care delivery as it relates to racial factors and socioeconomic factors in priority populations." Although the emphasis is on disparities related to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (SES), this directive includes a charge to examine disparities in "priority populations"—groups with unique health care needs or issues that require special focus.

The first National Healthcare Disparities Report (NHDR), released in 2003, was a comprehensive national overview of disparities in health care among racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups in the general U.S. population and within priority populations. The second NHDR initiated a second critical goal of the report series—tracking the Nation's progress towards the elimination of health care disparities.

This third NHDR meets these goals more completely and rigorously. New databases and measures have been added to provide a more comprehensive assessment of disparities in the Nation. Methods have been developed for tracking change in disparities in a standardized fashion that allows identification of specific disparities that are improving and disparities that are worsening.

While the 2005 report aims to include more data, efforts have also been made to make this growing body of information more understandable. To this end, the most important and scientifically supported measures—identified as core report measures—have been selected from the full NHDR measure set and are the focus of the report. This year's report begins annual tracking of these core report measures. Another approach to making large amounts of information easier to comprehend is to create composite or summary measures. This year's report introduces several new composite measures of quality.

As in previous years, the 2005 NHDR was planned and written by AHRQ staff with the support of AHRQ's National Advisory Council and the Interagency Work Group for the NHDR. The work group includes representatives from every operating division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In addition, to guide the development of new composite measures and new methods for summarizing report information, a Technical Expert Panel was convened. This panel included health statisticians and health policymakers from the Federal and private sectors.



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