ICYMI: Black Children Are More Likely to Die After Surgery Than White Peers, Study Shows

Yet another study showing racial disparities in healthcare:

Black children are more than three times as likely to die within a month of surgery as white children, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.

Disparities in surgical outcomes between Black and white patients have been well established, with researchers attributing some of the difference to higher rates of chronic conditions among Black people. But this study, which looked at data on 172,549 children, highlights the racial disparities in health outcomes even when comparing healthy children.

Researchers found that Black children were 3.4 times as likely to die within a month after surgery and were 1.2 times as likely to develop postoperative complications. The authors performed a retrospective study based on data on children who underwent surgery from 2012 through 2017.

Olubukola Nafiu, the lead author of the study and a pediatric anesthesiologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said the authors were not surprised to find that healthy children, across the board, had extremely low rates of mortality and rates of complications after surgery. But what surprised them was the magnitude of the difference in mortality and complication rates by race.

“The hypothesis we had when we started was that if you studied a relatively healthy cohort of patients, there shouldn’t be any difference in outcomes,” Dr. Nafiu said.

The authors, in their paper, acknowledged limitations of the study: They did not explore the site of care where patients received their treatments or the insurance status of patients, which can be used as a proxy for socioeconomic status. This meant they could not account for differences in the quality of care that patients received or the economic backgrounds of the patients.

Another limitation was that because mortality and postoperative complications are so uncommon among healthy children, it is possible that most of the cases came from a few hospitals, Dr. Nafiu said.

But while Black people are more likely to receive care in low-performing hospitals, that may not be the main factor driving the gap this study found, Dr. Nafiu said. The hospitals examined in the study were all part of the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program, a voluntary program, meaning they had the resources to be part of the program and the belief that quality improvement is important.

Adil Haider, dean of the medical college at Aga Khan University, who was not involved with the study, said that it told a key piece of the story about racial disparities in surgical outcomes, but that there were still many questions about what drives disparities.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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