Black veterans hospitalized with COVID-19 were less likely to be treated with evidence-based treatments, in a study conducted in 130 US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers between March 1, 2020, and February 28, 2022.
The study involved 12,135 Black veterans and 40,717 White veterans. Most patients hospitalized during period 1 (March-September 2020) were Black veterans and the proportion of White patients increased over time. The latter 3 periods, which included the Delta- and Omicron-predominant periods, saw the most admissions.
Controlling for the site of treatment, Black patients were equally likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (40% vs 43%). However, they were less likely to receive steroids, remdesivir, or immunomodulatory drugs.
The researchers say their data confirm other findings from 41 US health care systems participating in the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network (PCORNet), which found lower use of monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID infection for patients who identified as Asian, Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, or multiple races.
The researchers did not observe consistent differences in clinical outcomes between Black and White patients. After adjusting for demographics, chronic health conditions, severity of acute illness, and receipt of COVID-19–specific treatments, there was no association of Black race with hospital mortality or 30-day readmission. Black and White patients had a similar burden of preexisting health conditions. Of 38,782 patients discharged, 14% were readmitted within 30 days; the median time to readmission for both groups was 9 days.
Differences in care were partially explained by within- and between-hospital differences, the researchers say. They also cite research that demonstrated a poorer quality of care for hospitals with higher monthly COVID-19 discharges and hospital size.
The study results contradict the assumptions that differences in inpatient treatment by race and ethnicity may be due to differences in clinical indications for medication use based on age and comorbidities, such as chronic kidney or liver disease, the researchers say. For one thing, the VA issued a systemwide COVID-19 response plan that included specific treatment guidelines and distribution plans. But they also point to recent reports that have suggested that occult hypoxemia not detected by pulse oximetry occurs “far more often in Black patients than White patients,” which could result in delayed or missed opportunities to treat patients with COVID-19.