It is widely assumed that the use of medical care will lead to improvements in health, yet questions remain about the medical system's contributions to health disparities. In this review, we examine these issues with a specific focus on how health care systems may actually generate or exacerbate health disparities. We review current knowledge about inequality and bias in the health care system, including the epidemiology of such patterns and their underlying mechanisms. Over the past three decades, we observe growth in our knowledge about provider cognitive and psychological processing, including the development of precision measuring tools to analyze provider bias, racial and otherwise. In the same timeframe we observe decreased emphasis on social, interactional, organizational, and structural factors that shape variation in medical treatment. We frame our discussion within a modified social ecological model and discuss tools for moving forward and reinvigorating sociological presence in this important research area.


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