Background: Studies in the USA have shown ethnic inequalities in quality of hospital care, but in Europe, this has never been analysed. We explored variations in indicators of quality of hospital care by ethnicity in the Netherlands.
Methods: We analysed unplanned readmissions and excess length of stay (LOS) across ethnic groups in a large population of hospitalized patients over an 11-year period by linking information from the national hospital discharge register, the Dutch population register and socio-economic data. Data were analysed with stepwise logistic regression.
Results: Ethnic differences were most pronounced in older patients: all non-Western ethnic groups > 45 years had an increased risk for excess LOS compared with ethnic Dutch patients, with odds ratios (ORs) (adjusted for case mix) varying from 1.05 [95% confidence intervals (95% CI) 1.02-1.08] for other non-Western patients to 1.14 (95% CI 1.07-1.22) for Moroccan patients. The risk for unplanned readmission in patients >45 years was increased for Turkish (OR 1.24, 95% CI 1.18-1.30) and Surinamese patients (OR 1.11, 95% CI 1.07-1.16). These differences were explained partially, although not substantially, by differences in socio-economic status.
Conclusion: We found significant ethnic variations in unplanned readmissions and excess LOS. These differences may be interpretable as shortcomings in the quality of hospital care delivered to ethnic minority patients, but exclusion of alternative explanations (such as differences in patient- and community-level factors, which are outside hospitals' control) requires further research. To quantify potential ethnic inequities in hospital care in Europe, we need empirical prospective cohort studies with solid quality outcomes such as adverse event rates.