Background: An estimated 5.3 million people in the United States live with permanent disability related to traumatic brain injury (TBI). Access to rehabilitation after TBI is important in minimizing these disabilities. Ethnic disparities in access to health care have been documented in other diseases, but have not been studied in trauma care. We hypothesized that access to rehabilitation after TBI is influenced by race or ethnicity.
Methods: Retrospective analysis of the National Trauma Data Bank patients with severe blunt TBI (head abbreviated injury score 3-5, n = 58,729) who survived the initial hospitalization was performed. Placement into rehabilitation after discharge was studied in three groups: non-Hispanic white (NHW 77%), African American (14%), and Hispanic (9%). The two minority groups were compared with NHW patients using logistic regression to control for differences in age, gender, overall injury severity (injury severity score), TBI severity (head abbreviated injury score and Glasgow Coma Scale score), associated injuries, and insurance status.
Results: The three groups were similar in injury severity score, TBI severity, and associated injuries. After accounting for differences in potential confounders, including injury severity and insurance status, minority patients were 15% less likely to be placed in rehabilitation (odds ratio 0.85, 95% confidence interval 0.8-0.9, p < 0.0001).
Conclusions: Ethnic minority patients are less likely to be placed in rehabilitation than NHW patients are, even after accounting for insurance status, suggesting existence of systematic inequalities in access. Such inequalities may have a disproportionate impact on long-term functional outcomes of African American and Hispanic TBI patients, and suggest the need for an in-depth analysis of this disparity at a health policy level.