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The Future of the Public’s Health in the 21st Century
ing all of these problems is the absence of a national health information infrastructure to support research, clinical medicine, and population-level health.
Shortages of Health Care Professionals
The committee took special note of certain shortages of health care professionals, because these shortages are having a significant adverse effect on the quality of health care. The committee’s particular concerns are the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in all health professions and the shortage of nurses, especially registered nurses (RNs) practicing in hospitals.
However, the focus on these two health care professional shortage areas does not suggest the absence of problems in other fields. Acute shortages of primary care physicians exist in many geographic areas, in certain medical specialties, and in disciplines such as pharmacy and dentistry, to name two. In addition, a growing consensus suggests that major reforms are needed in the education and training of all health professionals. To deliver the type of health care envisioned in Crossing the Quality Chasm (IOM, 2001b), health care professionals must be trained to work in teams, to utilize information technology effectively, and to develop the competencies necessary to deliver care to an increasingly diverse population. Health professions education is not currently organized to produce these results.
Underrepresentation of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
In 2000, 9 percent of physicians and 12.3 percent of RNs were from racial and ethnic minority groups (AAMC, 2000). By comparison, racial and ethnic minorities account for more than one-quarter of the nation’s population. Among physicians, about 3 percent are African American, 2.2 percent are Hispanic, and 3.6 percent are Asian (AAMC, 2000). The 2000 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses reported that 5 percent of RNs are African American, 2 percent are Hispanic, and 3.5 percent are Asian (Spratley et al., 2000). The severe underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in the health professions affects access to care for minority populations, the quality of care they receive, and the level of confidence that minority patients have in the health care system.
A consistent body of research indicates that African-American and Hispanic physicians are more likely to provide services in minority and underserved communities and are more likely to treat patients who are poor, Medicaid eligible, and sicker (IOM, 2001c). Some studies indicate that, on average, minority physicians treat four to five times more minority patients than do white physicians, and studies of recent minority medical