Inequality in Pediatric Health Care

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr

This quote is part of an editorial (Flores G, “Dead Wrong: The Growing List of Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Childhood Mortality” J Pediatr 2015; 166: 790-3). The author discusses the disparities among African-American (AA) and Latino children in comparison to white children.

Key points:

  • AA children and young adults had ~6 times the death rate for drowning in swimming pools, 4 times more likely of dying after liver transplant, and about twice the likelihood of dying due to acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • Latino children have higher cancer death rates with about twice the likelihood of dying due to acute lymphoblastic leukemia and increased drowning death rate as well.
  • One new study (pages 812-8) shows that black children have increased in-hospital mortality (OR 1.66) after complications following congenital heart surgery and that hispanic children have an increased complication rate following surgery (OR 1.13). This was a retrospective study using the Kids’ Inpatient Database with approximately 3 million discharge abstracts for three separate years.
  • A second study (pages 819-26) with a data set of 98,833 children shows that birth defects resulted in higher 8-year adjusted hazards of death for black, latino, and Asian/Pacific Islander children.

Recognizing these disparities inevitable leads to the question of why. Dr. Flores postulates several factors.

  • Genetic differences.  For example, some ethnicities have more difficult to treat cancers, either due to genetic mutations or due to metabolism of medications.
  • Delays in diagnosis and treatment.  Patients who present at a later stage of diagnosis often have lower cure/response rates. The author notes that black children receive a diagnosis of autism a mean of 1.4 years later than white children.
  • Barriers to specialty care.  Specialty care can result in improved outcomes.
  • Bias in healthcare delivery, both conscious and unintentional.

Bottomline: The problems of racial inequality is not just a matter of relationships between the police and the community.  It is clear that more needs to be done to improve outcomes in healthcare as well.

Related blog posts:

Unrelated Link: Surgeon General Tells Elmo to Get His Vaccines

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