Researchers have found race and ethnic disparities in pain management among children who were treated for abdominal pain in hospital emergency rooms.
“This study contributes to the growing body of evidence showing disparities in pediatric health care,” said Tiffani Johnson, MD, primary investigator and emergency department physician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“Recognizing the existence of racial and ethnic disparities is a critical first step needed to eliminate inequities in care.”
Johnson and her colleagues analyzed data from a national study of nearly 2,300 emergency room visits by patients aged 21 and younger who complained of abdominal pain. A little over half of the patients were white, 23% percent were African American and 20% were Hispanic. The mean patient age was 14.5 years old.
Researchers found that black and Hispanic children were less likely to receive analgesics than white children, even when their pain was severe.
Black and Hispanic children were also more likely to stay in the hospital longer than white children.
There were no significant race or ethnicity disparities found in the use of diagnostic procedures or in hospital admissions.
“Additional research is still needed to help understand the sources of these disparities, which may include factors at the level of the patient, parent, physician, or healthcare system, Johnson said.
“This research can inform the development of interventions that seek to eliminate race- and ethnicity-based differences in the management of abdominal pain and other common pediatric complains in the emergency setting.”
The study is being published in the October issue of Pediatrics.
Another recent study also found that black, Hispanic and poor patients are less likely to receive opioid pain medications in emergency rooms across the U.S.
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that patients in the highest income neighborhoods received opioid prescriptions 49% of the time for moderate to severe pain, compared to 39% of the patients in lower income areas. The poorest were least likely to get opioids for pain.
Ironically, the disparity in opioid prescribing could be leading to more fatal overdoses among whites. Poisoning deaths in the U.S. are now the leading cause of accidental death among white Americans. The rate of poisoning deaths among whites aged 20 to 54 was nearly twice that of blacks.
Many experts believe the rise in poisoning deaths is being driven by overdoses of prescription pain medications.
“I would imagine that this is disparity in health care is backfiring on the Caucasian population,” said Igor Galynker, a psychiatrist and associate chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Beth Israel Medical Center told National Pain Report.
“White Americans have better access to health care and also probably have access to physicians that have more time for them, have more time to listen to their individual needs, and are more inclined to prescribe prescription painkillers and prescription opioids.”