Skip Navigation
MUSC mobile menu
  • We're on a mission...

    The Center for Health Disparities Research at the Medical University of South Carolina is focused on eliminating racial/ethnic, socioeconomic and rural/urban disparities in health.

  • We're striving for a healthier future...

    through excellence in all phases of our work and continually improving our programs and practices based on new knowledge.

  • We focus on translating research...

    to communities through development of health interventions that are effective and practical in the real world.

What Are Health Disparities

The National Institutes of Health defines health disparities as differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of diseases and other health conditions that exist among specific population groups. These differences in treatment are not justified by the underlying health condition, or the preferences of patients.

At CHDR and HEROIC, we tend to focus on health disparities related to three core areas:

  • Race and Ethnicity: Based on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on racial and ethnic disparities, many sources of disparities exist. For example, lack of adequate medical knowledge or information sources, lack of trust, racial/cultural differences, lack of social support and resources, and health care facility characteristics.
  • Income and Poverty Status: Social and environmental factors, such as where you live, work and play, can also impact your health. For example, where you live could result in a lack of access to grocery stores that provide healthy foods or access to safe areas in which to engage in physical activity. At the same time, economic factors such as unemployment and lack of health insurance restrict access to health care. According to the 2013 National Healthcare Disparities Report, those with low-income received worse care than high-income for about 60 percent of the quality measures, and those with low-income had worse access to care for all measures but one.
  • Regional and Rural/Urban Location: Disease also differs between those living in rural communities and those in urban communities. Based on a report by the National Academies Press on rebuilding health in rural America, factors such as poverty, isolation, limited access to medical services, and greater prevalence of obesity may lead to some of these differences. The number of people in a community, the local workforce, and cultural norms of the area, also influence the delivery of health care in rural areas and could lead to disparities.

Disparities in health continue in the United States, even in an equal access system like the VA where many barriers to care have been addressed. Differences are shown to exist in disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity and mortality. In South Carolina, if you are a black, you are twice as likely to have diabetes compared to someone who is white, and you are almost one and a half times more likely to die from diabetes than someone who is white and a similar age. This provides a dramatic example of health disparities related to race, though there are many others that we seek to understand and erase.

1. Institute of Medicine. Unequal Treatment – Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. Smedley BD et al. (Eds). National Academy Press, Washington, DC 2002.
2. S. Saha, M. Freeman, J. Toure, K. M. Tippens, and C. Weeks, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the VA Healthcare System:  A Systematic Review. 2007, Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Health Administration. Health Services Research & Development: Washington.
3. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 2013 National Healthcare Disparities Report. AHRQ Publication No. 14-0006. May 2014.
4. J. Merchant, C. Coussens, and D. Gibert, Eds. Rebuilding the Unity of Health and the Environment in Rural America. 2006, The National Academies Press: Washington, DC.

Contact Us

Rutledge Tower
135 Rutledge Ave., Room 280
Charleston, SC 29425-5930
Phone: 843-792-0906
Fax: 843-876-1201