Racial disparities in surgical care and outcomes in the United States: a comprehensive review of patient, provider, and systemic factors

J Am Coll Surg. 2013 Mar;216(3):482-92.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2012.11.014. Epub 2013 Jan 11.


It is well known that there are significant racial disparities in health care outcomes, including surgery. However, the mechanisms that lead to these disparities are still not fully understood. In this comprehensive review of the currently published surgical disparity literature in the United States, we assess racial disparities in outcomes after surgical procedures, focusing on patient, provider, and systemic factors. The PubMed, EMBASE, and Cochrane Library electronic databases were searched with the keywords: healthcare disparities AND surgery AND outcome AND US. Only primary research articles published between April 1990 and December 2011 were included in the study. Studies analyzing surgical patients of all ages and assessing the endpoints of mortality, morbidity, or the likelihood of receiving surgical therapy were included. A total of 88 articles met the inclusion criteria. This evidence-based review was compiled in a systematic manner, relying on retrospective, cross-sectional, case-control, and prospective studies in the absence of Class I studies. The review found that patient factors such as insurance status and socioeconomic status (SES) need to be further explored, as studies indicated only a premature understanding of the relationship between racial disparities and SES. Provider factors such as differences in surgery rates and treatment by low volume or low quality surgeons also appear to play a role in minority outcome disparities. Finally, systemic factors such as access to care, hospital volume, and hospital patient population have been shown to contribute to disparities, with research consistently demonstrating that equal access to care mitigates outcome disparities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethnology*
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Insurance Coverage
  • Minority Groups
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States