We Ask Because We Care: Our Commitment to Health Equity
South Shore Health is committed to providing all patients equitable access to quality care regardless of race, ethnicity, preferred language, interpreter needs, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
To help achieve this goal, we ask patients about their demographic background and language preferences. This information is called race, ethnicity and language (REaL) data, and we collect it to improve the health of our community – particularly where healthcare disparities or inequities exist.
Edward Liao, the Vice President of Clinical and Ancillary Services and Chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee at South Shore Health, answers questions about REaL data and health equity.
Why are you asking me about my race, ethnicity and language preferences?
Our goal is to provide quality health care that is accessible, safe and fair for all patients.
Studies have shown that some patient groups have poorer health outcomes than other groups. We call these differences “healthcare disparities.” Disparities often exist by race, ethnicity, preferred spoken and written language or other characteristics such as disability status, or socioeconomic status. These outcomes are often unintentional and care teams may not even know they exist.
By collecting more accurate patient information, including REaL and other demographic data, our care teams will better understand our patients and the communities we serve.
It also allows us to assess patient outcomes by race and ethnicity to understand whether there are differences in how we care for our patients. Once we identify them, we can make adjustments and develop quality improvements to eliminate inequities in care.
Do I have to answer these questions?
No. You may choose whether to share this information. Our intention in asking is to serve you and all patients better; the more we know about you, the better quality care we can provide you.
If you do not wish to provide this information, our staff will note that you prefer not to answer. If you change your mind later, you can update this information through MyChart or with the registration staff at your next visit.
How will South Shore Health use this information?
REaL data helps us study health outcomes among the different patient populations we serve and informs our decisions about the changes or improvements needed to resolve inequities.
We also use this information to create or expand programs to better support our patients. For instance, collecting spoken and written language preference data can help us plan for and provide medical interpretation and translation services.
Who has access to the REaL data I provide?
Registration and quality improvement staff may see this information as well as health insurance plans and researchers.
Any REaL data that you provide is part of your medical record, which is always kept private and is protected by federal privacy laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
We only share information within our healthcare organization on a "need to know basis" and with providers involved in your care. Moreover, we will only share your health information with your permission.
What is health equity and why does it matter?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health equity exists when “everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.”
Achieving health equity requires working as a society to address historical and current injustices, removing obstacles to health – including poverty and discrimination – and reducing disparities in care access, quality and outcomes that adversely affect diverse and marginalized communities.
Health is a fundamental human right and advancing health equity matters for everyone. By working to reduce health disparities, we can have a positive impact within our community, across the country and around the world.