Minority patients are much less likely than white patients to be given pain medications when they seek emergency department treatment for abdominal pain, a new study shows.
Minority patients were also more likely to have longer ER waiting and visit times and less likely to be admitted to the hospital, the study revealed.
“These findings add to the overwhelming evidence that racial/ethnic disparities not only exist, but are endemic in health care settings,” study co-author Dr. Adil Haider, director of the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in a hospital news release.
“Particularly important is the fact that these differences in pain medication use were concentrated in hospitals that treated the largest percentages of minority patients and among those reporting the severest pain, indicating that hospital-level factors may play an important role in eliminating disparities” Haider explained.
Researchers reviewed information from more than 6,700 visits to ERs across the United States between 2006 and 2010. About two-thirds of the people in the study were white. Twenty percent of the patients were black, about 14 percent were Hispanic and 5 percent were another race, the study authors noted.
The researchers found that minority patients with new abdominal pain were 22 percent to 30 percent less likely than whites to receive any type of pain medication. They also found that minorities were 17 percent to 30 percent less likely to receive narcotic painkillers.
Overall, pain medications were given to 57 percent of whites. But, in minority patients, just 53 percent of Hispanics, 51 percent of blacks, and 47 percent of people in other racial/ethnic groups were given pain drugs, the study found.
The study is published in the December issue of the journal Medical Care.
“I believe that equality is the cornerstone of medicine, and that it is our responsibility as healthcare providers to address disparities head-on not just in pain management but in all aspects of care,” Haider concluded.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about pain.