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Study details racial disparities in health care

LOS ANGELES - Many studies have documented the fact that patients of color are less likely to receive the same quality of medical care as whites, and that those differences often translate to worse health outcomes. The pattern holds up even after taking into account demographic factors such as income, education and health insurance status.

To figure out why, researchers from Yale University's School of Public Health and the Urban Institute focused on 133,821 patients who were treated for one of 10 surgical procedures at hospitals in New York City or Westchester and Nassau counties between 2001 and 2004.

They picked New York because of its diversity of ethnic groups and abundance of hospitals. They picked the 10 surgeries - for various cancers, heart procedures and hip replacement - because prior studies have shown surgeons and hospitals that perform them more often produce better outcomes.

The study, published yesterday in the journal Archives of Surgery, found that "for all 10 procedures, white patients were more frequently treated than were black, Asian and Hispanic patients."

White patients benefited from both high-volume hospitals and high-volume surgeons in 37.6 percent of cases, compared with 20.6 percent of cases for blacks, 24.4 percent of cases for Asian, and 25.5 percent of cases for Latinos, the study showed.

There was a "persistent pattern" of racial disparities that "play out differently for different minority groups," the authors wrote. Asians were most likely to be either uninsured or on Medicaid, though they were of higher socioeconomic status than the blacks or Latinos.

Different factors may be at work for each minority and health problem, the researchers wrote. But they were unable to pinpoint what those causes were.