Identifying Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Interhospital Transfer: an Observational Study

J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Oct;35(10):2939-2946. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06046-z. Epub 2020 Jul 22.


Background: Interhospital transfer (IHT) is often performed to provide patients with specialized care. Racial/ethnic disparities in IHT have been suggested but are not well-characterized.

Objective: To evaluate the association between race/ethnicity and IHT.

Design: Cross-sectional analysis of 2016 National Inpatient Sample data.

Patients: Patients aged ≥ 18 years old with common medical diagnoses at transfer, including acute myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, stroke, sepsis, pneumonia, and gastrointestinal bleed.

Main measures: We performed a series of logistic regression models to estimate adjusted odds of transfer by race/ethnicity controlling for patient demographics, clinical variables, and hospital characteristics and to identify potential mediators. In secondary analyses, we estimated adjusted odds of transfer among patients at community hospitals (those more likely to transfer patients) and performed subgroup analyses by region and primary medical diagnosis.

Key results: Of 5,774,175 weighted hospital admissions, 199,015 (4.5%) underwent IHT, including 4.7% of White patients, compared with 3.9% of Black patients and 3.8% of Hispanic patients. Black (OR 0.83, 95% CI 0.78-0.89) and Hispanic (OR 0.81, 95% CI 0.75-0.87) patients had lower crude odds of transfer compared with White patients, but this became non-significant after adjusting for hospital-level characteristics. In secondary analyses among patients hospitalized at community hospitals, Hispanic patients had lower adjusted odds of transfer (aOR 0.89, 95% CI 0.79-0.98). Disparities in IHT by race/ethnicity varied by region and medical diagnosis.

Conclusions: Black and Hispanic patients had lower odds of IHT, largely explained by a higher likelihood of being hospitalized at urban teaching hospitals. Racial/ethnic disparities in transfer were demonstrated at community hospitals, in certain geographic regions and among patients with specific diseases.

Keywords: health disparities; health services research; hospital medicine; interhospital transfer.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Black or African American
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethnicity*
  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People*