Non-Hispanic White children were more likely to receive diagnostic imaging at children’s hospitals’ emergency departments across the United States than were Hispanic children and non-Hispanic Black children, according to a large study published in.
Researchers found that, the more the percentage of children from minority groups cared for by a hospital increased, the wider the imaging gap between those children and non-Hispanic White children.
The cross-sectional study, led by Margaret E. Samuels-Kalow, MD, MPhil, MSHP, with the department of emergency medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, included 38 children’s hospitals and more than 12 million ED visits.
“These findings emphasize the urgent need for interventions at the hospital level to improve equity in imaging in pediatric emergency medicine,” the authors write.
Patients included in the study were younger than 18 and visited an ED from January 2016 through December 2019. Data were pulled from the Pediatric Health Information System.
Of the more than 12 million visits in this study, 3.5 million (28.7%) involved at least one diagnostic imaging test.
Diagnostic imaging was performed in 1.5 million visits (34.2%) for non-Hispanic White children; 790,961 (24.6%) for non-Hispanic Black children; and 907,222 (26.1%) for Hispanic children (P < .001).
Non-Hispanic Black children were consistently less likely to get diagnostic imaging than non-Hispanic White counterparts at every hospital in the study, no matter the imaging modality: radiography, ultrasonography, computed tomography, or magnetic resonance imaging.
Hispanic patients were generally less likely to get imaging than non-Hispanic White patients, though results were less consistent for ultrasound and MRI.
In a sensitivity analysis, when looking at imaging from patients’ first visit across the study cohort, non-Hispanic Black children were significantly less likely to get imaging than non-Hispanic White children (adjusted odds ratio, 0.77; 95% confidence interval, 0.74-0.79).
“This remained significant even after adjustment for a priori specified confounders including hospital propensity to image,” the authors write.
Authors acknowledge that it is possible that some of the differences may be attributable to the patient mix regarding severity of cases or indications for imaging by hospital, but they note that all models were adjusted for diagnosis-related group and other potential confounders.
This study did not assess whether one group is being overtested. Researchers also note that higher rates of imaging do not necessarily indicate higher quality of care.
However, the authors note, previous research has suggested overtesting of non-Hispanic White patients for head CT and chest pain, as well as patterns of overtreatment of non-Hispanic White patients who have bronchiolitis or viral upper respiratory tract infections.
Medell Briggs-Malonson, MD, MPH, chief of health equity, diversity and inclusion for the University of California, Los Angeles, Hospital and Clinic System, who was not part of the study, said in an interview “this all rings true.”
“This is not the first study we have had in either the pediatric or adult populations that shows disparate levels of care as well as health outcomes. Now we are starting to be able to measure it,” she said.
This study is further evidence of medical racism, she says, and highlights that it’s not the hospital choice or the insurance type affecting the numbers, she said.
“When you control for those factors, it looks to be it’s only due to race and that’s because of the very deep levels of implicit bias as well as explicit bias that we still have in our health systems and even in our providers,” said Dr. Briggs-Malonson, who is also an associate professor of emergency medicine at UCLA. “It’s incredibly important to identify and immediately address.”