Study: Race Disparity In Medical Care Persists

Reuters, June 12, 2007

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The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, tracked 1.2 million Medicare patients at least 68 years old treated for a heart attack between January 2000 and June 2005 at 4,627 U.S. hospitals.

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Black people were about 30 percent less likely to get procedures to open blood vessels such as angioplasty or open-heart surgery after a heart attack regardless of whether the hospital they checked into provided full invasive cardiac services, the study found.

Black people were 22 percent less likely to be transferred from a hospital that did not do such procedures to one that did, it found. And when they were, black people were 23 percent less likely to get these operations than white people, the researchers said.

In the first month after a heart attack, black people were 9 percent less likely to die than white people, the researchers said, perhaps because whites were more likely to undergo specialized procedures that sometimes can be fatal.

But in the period from a month to a year after the heart attack, blacks were up to 26 percent more likely to die than whites, the study found.

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The study was not designed to find the reasons for the disparities. Popescu said racial discrimination could not be ruled out, but other factors may be at play including patient preferences for certain types of procedures and possible overuse of certain aggressive procedures in white patients.

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“The most surprising finding was that even when they (black patients) were transferred from a hospital not providing specialized services to a hospital providing these services, they still were significantly less likely to receive these procedures,” Popescu said.

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[Editor’s Note: The abstract for “Differences in Mortality and Use of Revascularization in Black and White Patients With Acute MI Admitted to Hospitals With and Without Revascularization Services,” by Ioana Popescu, MD, MPH; Mary S. Vaughan-Sarrazin, PhD; and Gary E. Rosenthal, MD can be read here. The full text is available in various formats for a fee here.]

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