Background: Despite abundant evidence of racial disparities in the use of surgical procedures, it is uncertain whether these disparities reflect racial differences in clinical appropriateness or overuse or underuse of inappropriate care.
Methods: We performed a literature review and used an expert panel to develop criteria for determining the appropriateness of renal transplantation for patients with end-stage renal disease. Using data from five states and the District of Columbia on patients who had started to undergo dialysis in 1996 or 1997, we selected a random sample of 1518 patients (age range, 18 to 54 years), stratified according to race and sex. We classified the appropriateness of patients as data on candidates for transplantation and analyzed rates of referral to a transplantation center for evaluation, placement on a waiting list, and receipt of a transplant according to race.
Results: Black patients were less likely than white patients to be rated as appropriate candidates for transplantation according to appropriateness criteria based on expert opinion (71 blacks [9.0 percent] vs. 152 whites [20.9 percent]) and were more likely to have had incomplete evaluations (368 [46.5 percent] vs. 282 [38.8 percent], P<0.001 for the overall chi-square). Among patients considered to be appropriate candidates for transplantation, blacks were less likely than whites to be referred for evaluation, according to the chart review (90.1 percent vs. 98.0 percent, P=0.008), to be placed on a waiting list (71.0 percent vs. 86.7 percent, P=0.007), or to undergo transplantation (16.9 percent vs. 52.0 percent, P<0.001). Among patients classified as inappropriate candidates, whites were more likely than blacks to be referred for evaluation (57.8 percent vs. 38.4 percent), to be placed on a waiting list (30.9 percent vs. 17.4 percent), and to undergo transplantation (10.3 percent vs. 2.2 percent, P<0.001 for all three comparisons).
Conclusions: Racial disparities in rates of renal transplantation stem from differences in clinical characteristics that affect appropriateness as well as from underuse of transplantation among blacks and overuse among whites. Reducing racial disparities will require efforts to distinguish their specific causes and the development of interventions tailored to address them.