Race/Ethnicity and End-of-Life Care Among Veterans

Med Care. 2017 Apr;55(4):342-351. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000637.


Background: Few studies have examined comprehensively racial/ethnic variations in quality of end-of-life care.

Objective: Examine end-of-life care quality received by Veterans and their families, comparing racial/ethnic minorities to nonminorities.

Research design: This is a retrospective, cross-sectional analysis of chart review and survey data.

Subjects: Nearly all deaths in 145 Veterans Affairs Medical Centers nationally (n=94,697) in addition to Bereaved Family Survey (BFS) data (n=51,859) from October 2009 to September 2014.

Measures: Outcomes included 15 BFS items and 4 indicators of high-quality end-of-life care, including receipt of a palliative care consult, chaplain visit, bereavement contact, and death in hospice/palliative care unit. Veteran race/ethnicity was measured via chart review and defined as non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, Hispanic, or other.

Results: In adjusted models, no differences were observed by race/ethnicity in receipt of a palliative care consult or death in a hospice unit. Although black Veterans were less likely than white Veterans to receive a chaplain visit, Hispanic Veterans were more likely than white Veterans to receive a chaplain visit and to receive a bereavement contact. Less favorable outcomes for racial/ethnic minorities were noted on several BFS items. In comparison with family members of white Veterans, families of minority Veterans were less likely to report excellent overall care, and this difference was largest for black Veterans (48% vs. 62%).

Conclusions: Bereaved family members of minority Veterans generally rate the quality of end-of-life care less favorably than those of white Veterans. Family perceptions are critical to the evaluation of equity and quality of end-of-life care.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethnic Groups*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminal Care / standards*
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Veterans*