Purpose: African-Americans are disproportionally represented among high-risk, high-utilizing patients. To inform program development for this vulnerable population, the current study describes racial variation in chronic conditions and sociodemographic characteristics among high-utilizing patients in the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System (VA).
Methods: We identified the 5 % most costly Veterans who used inpatient or outpatient care at the VA during fiscal year 2010 (N = 237,691) based on costs of inpatient and outpatient care, pharmacy services, and VA-sponsored contract care. Patient costs and characteristics were abstracted from VA outpatient and inpatient data files. Racial differences in sociodemographic characteristics (age, sex, marital support, homelessness, and health insurance status) were assessed with chi-square tests. Racial differences in 32 chronic condition diagnoses were calculated as relative risk ratios.
Results: African-Americans represented 21 % of high-utilizing Veterans. African-Americans had higher rates of homelessness (26 vs. 10 %, p < 0.001) and lower rates of supplemental health insurance (44 vs. 58 %, p < 0.001). The mean number of chronic conditions was similar across race. However, there were racial differences in the prevalence of specific chronic conditions, including a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS (95 % confidence interval (CI) 4.86, 5.50) and schizophrenia (95 % CI 1.94, 2.07) and a lower prevalence of ischemic heart disease (95 % CI 0.57, 0.59) and bipolar disorder (95 % CI 0.78, 0.85) among African-American high-utilizing Veterans.
Conclusion: Racial disparities among high-utilizing Veterans may differ from those found in the general population. Interventions should devote attention to social, environmental, and mental health issues in order to reduce racial disparities in this vulnerable population.
Keywords: African-American; Chronic conditions; High-utilizing patients; Racial disparities; Veterans.