Is there racial bias in America’s ERs?

Discussions of lingering racial bias in the United States are often uncomfortable, but sometimes necessary. One would hope that doctors, nurses and other medical professionals would give good care to all of their patients, regardless of their race or ethnicity. But a new government study suggests that the quality of care children are receiving in the country’s emergency rooms may depend on their skin color.

The study examined the records of nearly 2,300 ER visits. The records were for patients who were all under age 21 and complaining of stomach pain. The majority of them were white, while 24 percent were non-Hispanic black, 21 percent Hispanic and the rest from other ethnic groups.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who wrote the study, found that white children and teens were more likely to have a shorter waiting time in the ER, and were more likely to be prescribed something for the pain. More than 27 percent of white patients received analgesics, compared with 18.9 percent of Hispanic patients and just 15.8 percent of blacks. Other races were even less likely to get a painkiller; just 7.1 percent did.

And that was when the patients finally got to see a doctor. Though there was mostly no statistical trend dividing wait times along racial lines, young black patients were 68 percent more likely to have to wait more than six hours in the ER than their white peers.

This data suggests that non-white patients may not be receiving the same quality of care as white patients, possibly to the point of medical malpractice. The reasons behind this may be very complex. But the lead author acknowledges that racial bias could be one of the causes for this discrepancy.

Source: The New York Times, “Unequal Pain Relief in the Emergency Room,” Nicholas Bakalar, Sept. 30, 2013

Hospital Negligence


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