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Study Finds Higher COVID-19 Mortality Among Black Patients Linked to Unequal Hospital Quality

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The COVID-19 death rate for Black patients would be 10 percent lower if they had access to the same hospitals as white patients, a new study shows. Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and OptumLabs, part of UnitedHealth Group, analyzed data from tens of thousands of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and found that Black patients died at higher rates than white patients. But the study, published in JAMA Network Open, determined that didn’t have to be the case if more Black patients were able to get care at different hospitals.

Researchers examined hospital-level differences by examining 10 months of de-identified hospitalization data from more than 44,000 Medicare patients from 1,188 hospitals across 41 states and the District of Columbia. Roughly 33,500 patients were white and nearly 11,000 were Black. Examining inpatient mortality rate in the 30 days after admission for each group and including those discharged to hospice care, the researchers show that the overall mortality for white patients was approximately 12.9 percent and 13.5 percent for Black patients.

Increased mortality among Black patients was partly explained by lower income levels and more comorbid illness in those populations. However, the authors wrote in their paper that “even if statistical adjustment for patient characteristics explains racial differences in outcome, it does not excuse them if those factors are disproportionately represented in Black populations as a result of racist forces.”

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