Descriptive Analysis of the 2014 Race-Based Healthcare Disparities Measurement Literature

  • Melody S. Goodman
  • Keon L. Gilbert
  • Darrell Hudson
  • Laurel Milam
  • Graham A. Colditz



There are more than 500 articles in the 2014 race-based healthcare disparities literature across a broad array of diseases and outcomes. However, unlike many other forms of research (e.g., clinical trials and systematic reviews), there are no required reporting guidelines when submitting results of disparities studies to journals.


This study describes the race-based healthcare disparities measurement literature in terms of study design, journal characteristics, generation of health disparities research, type of disparity measure used, and adherence to disparities measurement guidelines.


We searched three databases of peer-reviewed literature, PubMed, Ovid Medline, and JSTOR, for English language articles published in 2014 on racial/ethnic healthcare disparities. Studies must have quantitatively measured the difference in health outcomes between two racial/ethnic groups in order to be included. Our final sample included 266 studies from 167 medical and public health journals.


Only 7 % (n = 19) of articles reported both an absolute and relative measure of disparity; the majority of studies (64 %, n = 171) reported only a relative measure of effect. Most studies were published in clinical journals (74 %, n = 198), used secondary data (86 %, n = 229), and calculated black-white disparities (82 %, n = 218). The most common condition studied was cancer (25 %, n = 67), followed by a surgical procedure (18 %, n = 48). On average, articles in the sample only met 61 % of the applicable guidelines on reporting of disparities.

Conclusions and Relevance

To be able to synthesize findings in the racial disparities literature (meta-analysis), there is a need for the use of consistent methods for quantifying disparities and reporting in the literature. A more consistent battery of measures and consistent reporting across studies may help speed our understanding of the origins and development of solutions to address healthcare disparities. Despite guidelines for best practices in reporting disparities, there is a lack of adherence in the current literature.


Racial health disparities Systematic review Literature review Descriptive analysis Methods Measures 



The authors would like to thank Laura Harrison and Laura Santangelo for their preliminary review of articles and development of the database including extraction of key variables.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


The work of Dr. Goodman is supported by the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation, Siteman Cancer Center, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute grant U54CA153460 and Washington University School of Medicine Faculty Diversity Scholars Program. Dr. Gilbert is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections grant and the Saint Louis University Faculty Research Leave Program. Dr. Colditz is supported by an American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professorship and the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation. The funding agreements ensured the authors’ independence in designing and conducting the study; collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the data; and preparation of the manuscript reporting the results.

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

40615_2016_281_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (43 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 42 kb)


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Copyright information

© W. Montague Cobb-NMA Health Institute 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melody S. Goodman
    • 1
  • Keon L. Gilbert
    • 2
  • Darrell Hudson
    • 3
  • Laurel Milam
    • 1
  • Graham A. Colditz
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Public Health Sciences, Department of SurgeryWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Behavioral Science & Health Education, College for Public Health & Social JusticeSaint Louis UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  3. 3.George Warren Brown School of Social WorkWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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