Race/Ethnicity and overuse of care: a systematic review

Milbank Q. 2015 Mar;93(1):112-38. doi: 10.1111/1468-0009.12107.

Abstract

POLICY POINTS: Racial/ethnic differences in the overuse of care (specifically, unneeded care that does not improve patients' outcomes) have received little scholarly attention. Our systematic review of the literature (59 studies) found that the overuse of care is not invariably associated with race/ethnicity, but when it was, a substantial proportion of studies found greater overuse of care among white patients. The absence of established subject terms in PubMed for the overuse of care or inappropriate care impedes the ability of researchers or policymakers to synthesize prior scientific or policy efforts.

Context: The literature on disparities in health care has examined the contrast between white patients receiving needed care, compared with racial/ethnic minority patients not receiving needed care. Racial/ethnic differences in the overuse of care, that is, unneeded care that does not improve patients' outcomes, have received less attention. We systematically reviewed the literature regarding race/ethnicity and the overuse of care.

Methods: We searched the Medline database for US studies that included at least 2 racial/ethnic groups and that examined the association between race/ethnicity and the overuse of procedures, diagnostic (care) or therapeutic care. In a recent review, we identified studies of overuse by race/ethnicity, and we also examined reference lists of retrieved articles. We then abstracted and evaluated this information, including the population studied, data source, sample size and assembly, type of care, guideline or appropriateness standard, controls for clinical confounding and financing of care, and findings.

Findings: We identified 59 unique studies, of which 11 had a low risk of methodological bias. Studies with multiple outcomes were counted more than once; collectively they assessed 74 different outcomes. Thirty-two studies, 6 with low risks of bias (LRoB), provided evidence that whites received more inappropriate or nonrecommended care than racial/ethnic minorities did. Nine studies (2 LRoB) found evidence of more overuse of care by minorities than by whites. Thirty-three studies (6 LRoB) found no relationship between race/ethnicity and overuse.

Conclusions: Although the overuse of care is not invariably associated with race/ethnicity, when it was, a substantial proportion of studies found greater overuse of care among white patients. Clinicians and researchers should try to understand how and why race/ethnicity might be associated with overuse and to intervene to reduce it.

Keywords: guideline adherence; inappropriate test; inappropriate utilization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Health Services Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Healthcare Disparities / economics
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethnology*
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • MEDLINE
  • Minority Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data*