The quality of health care in the United States is not optimal, and the pace of improvement is slow. In addition, disparities persist for specific population groups. A fundamental step in identifying which populations are most at risk is to collect data on race, ethnicity, and English-language proficiency. A large body of research has documented disparities in access to and quality of health care that are revealed when quality of care measures are examined by these variables. A lack of standardization of race, ethnicity, and language categories has been raised as one obstacle to achieving more widespread collection and utilization of these data.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) formed the Subcommittee on Standardized Collection of Race/Ethnicity Data for Healthcare Quality Improvement to examine approaches to standardization. In its 2009 report, Race, Ethnicity, and Language Data: Standardization for Health Care Quality Improvement, the subcommittee recommends collection of more granular ethnicity and language need according to national standards in addition to OMB race and Hispanic ethnicity categories. The presence of data on race, ethnicity, and language does not, in and of itself, guarantee subsequent actions in terms of analysis of quality-of-care data to identify health care needs or actions to reduce or eliminate disparities that are found. The absence of data, however, essentially guarantees that none of those actions will occur.