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Finding and Using Health Statistics

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What Statistics Exist about Health Care?

Health care statistics reveal a lot about the state of health care systems and services, including who has access to health care, the quality of the care people get, and a variety of data on patients, providers, diagnoses, medications, and patient satisfaction.

Researchers often study data about either a group of patients, for example patients of a certain age or race, or about a group of hospitals in a certain location.

Here are examples of two line graphs tracking the care patients with colon cancer get at different types of hospitals.

Two graphs, side by side, showing the percentage of patients with colon cancer who received surgical resection of colon cancer that included at least 12 lymph nodes pathologically examined. One graph shows the residence locations, and the other shows the types of insurance.]

Data disaggregation, or separating data into measures or variables of interest, is essential to revealing differences across groups or categories within a set of data. For example, one may expect to find differences in measures of health outcomes between elderly and young adult populations. Disaggregated data allows for analysis of these differences.

Another specific type of difference concerns health inequity, or health disparities. These are differences based on historic and systematic social inequities[1]. “Differences in health outcomes and health care that are closely linked with social, economic, and environmental disadvantage” are called health disparities.[2] Americans experience variable access to and quality of care “based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and residential location.”[3]

The National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report (QDR) is a congressionally-mandated annual publication of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) that monitors trends in progress in improving health care access, quality, and disparities in the U.S. The 2015 QDR finds that although some disparities have decreased, for example the number of people with health insurance, due largely to the Affordable Care Act, disparities in access to and quality of care persist. The QDR includes a series of charts with the latest findings on quality of and access to health care.

[1]2015 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report and 5th Anniversary Update on the National Quality Strategy. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2015, page 5.
[2]Braveman, P. What Are Health Disparities and Health Equity? We Need to Be Clear. Public Health reports, 129(Suppl 2), 5-8. 2014.
[3]A Nation Free of Disparities in Health and Health Care: HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011, page 1.
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