Importance: Evidence from national studies indicates systematic differences in hospitals in which racial/ethnic minorities receive care, with most care obtained in a small proportion of hospitals. Little is known about the source of these differences.
Objectives: To examine the patterns of emergency department (ED) destination of emergency medical services (EMS) transport according to patient race/ethnicity, and to compare the patterns between those transported by EMS and those who did not use EMS.
Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study of US EMS and EDs used Medicare claims data from January 1, 2006, to December 31, 2012. Enrollees aged 66 years or older with continuous fee-for-service Medicare coverage (N = 864 750) were selected for the sample. Zip codes with a sizable count (>10) of Hispanic, non-Hispanic black, and non-Hispanic white enrollees were used for comparison of EMS use across racial/ethnic subgroups. Data on all ED visits, with and without EMS use, were obtained. Data analysis was performed from December 18, 2018, to July 7, 2019.
Main outcomes and measures: The main outcome measure was whether an EMS transport destination was the most frequent ED destination among white patients (reference ED). The secondary outcomes were (1) whether the ED destination was a safety-net hospital and (2) the distance of EMS transport from the ED destination.
Results: The study cohort comprised 864 750 Medicare enrollees from 4175 selected zip codes who had 458 701 ED visits using EMS transport. Of these EMS-transported enrollees, 26.1% (127 555) were younger than 75 years, and most were women (302 430 [66.8%]). Overall, the proportion of white patients transported to the reference ED was 61.3% (95% CI, 61.0% to 61.7%); this rate was lower among black enrollees (difference of -5.3%; 95% CI, -6.0% to -4.6%) and Hispanic enrollees (difference of -2.5%; 95% CI, -3.2% to -1.7%). A similar pattern was found among patients with high-risk acute conditions; the proportion transported to the reference ED was 61.5% (95% CI, 60.7% to 62.2%) among white enrollees, whereas this proportion was lower among black enrollees (difference of -6.7%; 95% CI, -8.3% to -5.0%) and Hispanic enrollees (difference of -2.6%; 95% CI, -4.5% to -0.7%). In major US cities, a larger black-white discordance in ED destination was observed (-9.3%; 95% CI, -10.9% to -7.7%). Black and Hispanic patients were more likely to be transported to a safety-net ED compared with their white counterparts; the proportion transported to a safety-net ED among white enrollees (18.5%; 95% CI, 18.1% to 18.7%) was lower compared with that among black enrollees (difference of 2.7%; 95% CI, 2.2% to 3.2%) and Hispanic enrollees (difference of 1.9%; 95% CI, 1.3% to 2.4%). Concordance rates of non-EMS-transported ED visits were statistically significantly lower than for EMS-transported ED visits; the concordance rate among white enrollees of 52.9% (95% CI, 52.1% to 53.6%) was higher compared with that among black enrollees (difference of -4.8%; 95% CI, -6.4% to -3.3%) and Hispanic enrollees (difference of -3.0%; 95% CI, -4.7% to -1.3%).
Conclusions and relevance: This study found race/ethnicity variation in ED destination for patients using EMS transport, with black and Hispanic patients more likely to be transported to a safety-net hospital ED compared with white patients living in the same zip code.