Study: Ending racial disparities in health care could save five times more lives than technological advances


Contact: Maureen Maxwell
(202) 232-9033 or (800) 274-2237, ext. 2560

WASHINGTON - Lives saved by reducing the mortality rate of African-Americans to the rate of whites are five times those that could be saved by improvements in medical technology. So said the authors of "The Health Impact of Resolving Racial Disparities: An Analysis of US Mortality Data," published in the December edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

Using data from 1991 to 2000, the authors estimated that 886,202 deaths could have been averted had the death rate of African Americans and whites been comparable during this time period. The authors calculated that technological advances during those years averted 176,633 deaths.

The authors explained that it would take years to fully determine the differences in the benefits of the two approaches, but pointed out that policy-makers need some guidance now. Because a five-fold difference in averted deaths was observed, the researchers stated that more precise calculations would be unlikely to change the direction of their findings.

"The prudence of investing billions in the development of new drugs and technologies while investing only a fraction of that amount in the correction of disparities deserves reconsideration. It is an imbalance that may claim more lives than it saves," concluded the researchers.

The authors include Steven H. Woolf, M.D., lead author and professor of family medicine, preventive medicine and community health at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Richmond; David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, and former U.S. surgeon general; Robert E. Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of biostatistics at VCU; George E. Fryer Jr., Ph.D., formerly an analyst with the Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care in Washington, D.C., and George Rust, MD, deputy director of the National Center for Primary Care.

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Note to journalists: To interview the authors, or to obtain a copy of the article, please contact Maureen Maxwell at (202) 232-9033, (800) 274-2237, or

The Robert Graham Center conducts research and analysis that brings a family medicine perspective to health policy deliberations in Washington. Founded in 1999, the Center is an independent research unit working under the personnel and financial policies of the American Academy of Family Physicians. For more information, please visit

The information and opinions contained in research from the Robert Graham Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.

December 20, 2004