Trends of Racial/Ethnic Differences in Emergency Department Care Outcomes Among Adults in the United States From 2005 to 2016

Front Med (Lausanne). 2020 Jun 25;7:300. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2020.00300. eCollection 2020.


Importance: While the literature documenting health disparities has advanced in recent decades, less is known about the pattern of racial/ethnic disparities in emergency care in the United States. Objective: To describe the trends and differences of health outcomes and resource utilization among racial/ethnic groups in US emergency care for adult patients over a 12-year period. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional study of emergency department (ED) data from the nationally representative National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Survey (NHAMCS) examined multiple dimensions of ED care and treatment from 2005 to 2016 among adults in the US. Main Outcomes and Measures: The main outcomes include ED care outcomes (hospital admission, ICU admission, and death in the ED/hospital), resource utilization outcomes (medical imaging use, blood test, and procedure use), and patients' waiting time in the ED. The main exposure variable is race/ethnicity including white patients (non-Hispanic), black patients (non-Hispanic), Hispanic patients, Asian patients, and Other. Results: During the 12-year study period, NHAMCS collected data on 247,989 adult (> 18 years old) ED encounters, providing a weighted sample of 1,065,936,835 ED visits for analysis. Asian patients were 1.21 times more likely than white patients to be admitted to the hospital following an ED visit (aOR 1.21, 95% CI 1.12-1.31). Hispanic patients presented no significant difference in hospital admission following an ED visit (aOR 1.01, 95% CI 0.97-1.06) with white patients. Black patients were 7% less likely to receive an urgent ESI score than white patients less likely to receive immediate or emergent scores, as opposed to semi- or non-urgent scores. Black patients were also 10% less likely than white patients to be admitted to the hospital and were 1.26 times more likely than white patients to die in the ED or hospital. Conclusions and Relevance: Race is associated with significant differences in ED treatment and admission rates, which may represent disparities in emergency care. Hispanic and Asian Americans were equal or more likely to be admitted to the hospital compared to white patients. Black patients received lower triage scores and higher mortality rates. Further research is needed to understand the underlying causes and long-term health consequences of these disparities.

Keywords: African-American; emergency care; health disparities; health outcomes; resource utilization; trend.