Background: Atrial fibrillation (AF) is associated with an increased risk of stroke and death. Uniform utilization of appropriate therapies for AF may help reduce those risks.
Objective: We sought to determine whether significant race and sex differences exist in the treatment of newly diagnosed AF in Medicare beneficiaries.
Methods: We used administrative encounter data for Medicare beneficiaries to identify patients with newly diagnosed AF during 2010-2011. Services received after initial AF diagnosis were cataloged, including visits with a cardiologist or electrophysiologist, catheter ablation procedures, and use of oral anticoagulants, rate control agents, and antiarrhythmic drugs.
Results: Overall, 517,941 patients met study criteria, of whom 452,986 (87%) were white, 36,425 (7%) black, and 28,530 (6%) Hispanic. Male patients comprised 209,788 (41%) of the cohort. In multivariate analysis, there were statistically significant differences in the use of AF-related services by both race and sex, with white patients and male patients receiving the most care. The most notable disparities were for catheter ablation (Hispanic vs white: adjusted hazard ratio [AHR] 0.70; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.63-0.79; P < .001; female vs male: AHR 0.65; 95% CI 0.63-0.68; P < .001) and receipt of oral anticoagulation (black vs white: AHR 0.94; 95% CI 0.92-0.95; P < .001; Hispanic vs white: AHR 0.94; 95% CI 0.93-0.97; P < .001; female vs male: AHR 0.93; 95% CI 0.93-0.94; P < .001).
Conclusion: Race and sex appear to have a significant effect on the health care provided to this cohort of Medicare beneficiaries diagnosed with AF. Possible explanations include racial differences in access, patient preferences, treatment bias, and unmeasured clinical characteristics.
Keywords: Atrial fibrillation; Disparities; Outcomes.
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