Racial discrepancies persist in pain treatment in the ER

U.S. emergency departments may address pain management differently based on patients' race, according to a study published in Medical Care.

Researchers from Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, led by Adil H. Haider, M.D., studied Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on acute abdominal pain patients from 2006 to 2010. They looked at 6,710 ED visits that involved 61 percent non-Hispanic whites, 20 percent non-Hispanic black patients, 14 percent Hispanic patents and 5 percent from other groups.

They found that the non-Hispanic black and uncategorized groups were 22 to 30 percent less likely than non-Hispanic whites to get analgesic medication treatments for the condition in general, and 17 to 30 percent less likely to receive narcotic analgesics.

Overall, the discrepancies tended to occur in hospitals with larger percentages of both minority patients and patients with severe pain, with risk of inadequate treatment particularly high for black patients.

"This analysis, which uses data from EDs from across the country, found that minorities experience significant disparities with regard to the receipt of analgesic medications for abdominal pain," Haider said in an announcement, which demonstrates the necessity of working to "ensure that every patient receive unbiased empathy and the highest standard of care, regardless of his/her racial heritage."

The results, Haider added, build on existing research that found broad racial disparities in healthcare settings, including similar findings on pain medication administration from 2010 and a 2015 study that found disparities have persisted even in the wake of Affordable Care Act coverage increases. Moreover, programs aimed at improving care quality have led to some advances but failed to eliminate the disparities.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the announcement