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Expanded categories for race, ethnicity, and gender will give patients more options for self-identification

M Health Fairview’s updated, consistent options for race, ethnicity, and gender identity will give patients more freedom to self-identify, while spotlighting existing health inequities and promoting improved care for all.

  • June 30, 2021
  • By Staff Writer

M Health Fairview patients will soon have new options when identifying their race and ethnicity on medical registration forms and in other places across our health system. These changes began rolling out in late May, and the updated race and ethnicity categories will be in place at all hospitals and clinics starting July 11.

Our patients previously had fewer options when self-identifying as a certain race or ethnicity on medical registration forms, on MyChart, and in other places. Those at our former HealthEast locations in the east metro only had two possible ethnicity choices: Hispanic or non-Hispanic. Now, all of our patients will have nearly 70 ethnicities to select from, which will be consistent across all M Health Fairview facilities.

Across M Health Fairview, we are also removing the ethnicities of “American” and “Canadian” on registration forms, to help provide us with more detailed information about the populations we serve.

Ethnicity is defined as a group of people sharing common cultural characteristics – including religion, language, family structures, traditions and more. While ethnicity can be tied to nationality or ancestry, this isn’t always the case. In order to better understand our patients, “American” was too broad a category, as it includes several different religions, traditions and cultures.

“‘American’ was our most frequently-chosen ethnicity, but it doesn’t help us understand our patient population,” said Nicole Beauvais, PA-C, MMS, MPH, vice president of quality for M Health Fairview. “If we’re trying to understand culture, ‘American’ is too broad a category.”

Collecting more precise data will help M Health Fairview identify and solve health inequities across our system. Race is a social – not biological -- construct that categorizes people by physical characteristics. Because of this, it doesn’t pre-determine a person’s health needs. However, there are often correlations between race and ethnicity, and healthcare access and outcomes, Beauvais said.

Instead of broad assumptions, expanded data collection will allow M Health Fairview teams to identify trends and find tailored ways to improve care for our diverse populations.

“Knowing what our disparities are is the first step in ending them,” said Ajay Patel, PharmD, a medication therapy management pharmacist at M Health Fairview's Rice Street Clinic and Pain Center. “In my work in the east metro, accurate ethnicity identifiers are exceptionally important. At the Rice Street clinic, we see a large population of Hmong, Karen and Nepali patients.”

Going forward, our health system will also allow patients who identify as multiracial the opportunity to select all the races they identify with, as opposed to simply saying they are multiracial. Beauvais hopes more representative options will encourage patients to share this important information with providers.

“The categories were more limited previously, and we had a lot of patients saying they didn’t know which race or ethnicity to identify with. Many chose not to answer,” said Beauvais. 

Patients who are new to M Health Fairview will be asked to answer the updated race and ethnicity self-identification questions during registration. Going forward, existing patients will be contacted to revise their answers on an annual basis. They will also soon have the ability to update this information whenever they’d like through an online MyChart account.

These changes to our data collection processes ensure we’re getting accurate information about our patients in real time, not just once. This is important, as a person’s identity may be fluid throughout their life. For example, a child’s caregiver may identify them as multiracial. Over the course of their life, that child may grow up and decide they identify more with one race than another. Similarly, a person may begin identifying more strongly with one of their ethnicities as their environment or relationships change.

M Health Fairview is also in the process of updating and expanding options for gender identity and social determinants of health. The latter includes education and literacy, neighborhood and built environment, income stability and employment, and social and community context.

This work is being guided in large part by our Healing, Opportunity, People and Equity (HOPE) Commission, which formed last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The commission’s goal is to eliminate systemic racism and inequitable outcomes in healthcare. It quickly identified better data collection as a priority for our system.

This expanded and more precise data collection will help us learn from our patients, in order to effectively improve outcomes for our patients.