How race, ethnicity affect what hospital a person is transported to via ambulance: study

Black and Hispanic patients are more likely to be transported by ambulance to an emergency department at a safety-net hospital than white patients living in the same zip code, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, Boston Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, also in Boston, wanted to better understand whether racial and ethnic minorities who required emergency care were transported to the same EDs as white residents living in the same zip code.

In their study of nearly 460,000 ED visits via ambulance from 4,175 zip codes, the researchers found that from 2006-12, 61.3 percent of white patients were taken to the most frequent ED destination among white Medicare beneficiaries for their zip code. Comparatively, the rate was 5.3 percent lower for black patients and 2.5 percent lower for Hispanic patients. 

"This study found that Medicare enrollees from the same location who used EMS for emergent conditions were transported to different EDs, with increased divergence in areas with multiple EDs in the vicinity," the researchers said. "In all geographic areas, a sizable proportion of black and Hispanic patients were transported to different EDs compared with their white counterparts living in the same zip code. Considerable similarity was observed in the pattern of ED destinations between patients transported by EMS and walk-in patients, suggesting that patient choice is a potential determinant."

One limitation of the study is that patients with certain clinical conditions may need to be taken to specific ED destinations, which may be farther away from their homes. 

Read the full study here.

Editor's note: This article was updated Sept. 10 to provide additional information.

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