February 15th, 2011

Study Sheds Light on Racial Disparities in Hospital Readmissions

Although many studies in recent years have explored the issue of racial disparities in health care, a new study scrutinizes the effect of race on hospital readmissions, an area that has not been previously examined. In a report appearing in JAMA, Karen Joynt and colleagues examined Medicare data to study readmissions after hospitalizations for acute MI, congestive heart failure, and pneumonia.

Readmission rates were higher for black patients than for white patients (24.8% vs 22.6%) and were higher for patients receiving treatment at hospitals categorized as minority-serving (i.e., treating the largest percentage of minority patients) than for those at non-minority-serving hospitals (25.5%  vs 22.0%). Here are the readmission rates for acute MI, based on both race and site of care:

  • White/Non-minority-serving hospital: 20.9%
  • Black/Non-minority-serving hospital: 23.3%
  • White/Minority-serving hospital: 24.6%
  • Black/Minority-serving hospital: 26.4%

The authors concluded that their “findings that racial disparities in readmissions are related to both patient race and the site where care is provided should spur clinical leaders and policy makers to find new ways to reduce disparities in this important health outcome.”

In an accompanying editorial, Adrian Hernandez and Lesley Curtis discuss the “unintended consequences” of “financial incentives based on readmission rates” that “may unfairly penalize minority-serving hospitals and thereby widen the gap in care for disadvantaged minorities.”

One Response to “Study Sheds Light on Racial Disparities in Hospital Readmissions”

  1. Does this actually mean something? If it does, it could mean lots of different things, none of which can easily be answered or concluded upon based simply on these numbers. It sounds like Hernandez and Curtis might be dabbling in speculation.