What US News' equity analysis reveals about racial gaps in hospital care: 5 takeaways

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About 80 percent of U.S. hospitals serve a smaller proportion of patients in racial and ethnic minority groups relative to their representation in the surrounding community, according to an analysis U.S. News & World Report released July 27 alongside its 2021-22 best hospitals rankings.

U.S. News used 2015-19 Medicare data to examine the representation of local patients who received elective care at 1,400 hospitals between 2015-19, relative to the demographics of the surrounding community. 

U.S. News shared hospital-specific findings from the analysis as new healthcare equity measures on each facility's online profile. To search for a hospital, click here. The equity measures did not factor into this year's best hospitals ratings. U.S. News said it plans to add more measures in the coming years as part of its ongoing health equity initiative. 

Five takeaways from the analysis:

1. Only 29 percent of hospitals treated a proportion of Black patients comparable to or higher than their community's Black population. This figure sat at 18 percent for Hispanic patients and 5 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander patients. 

2. Black patients had more hospitalizations that may have been avoided with access to better preventive care compared to Medicare patients of other races.

3. A minority of hospitals served a patient population that reflected local demographics or represented a larger share of people from minority groups compared to their surrounding communities. In some cases, hospitals in the latter category were near other hospitals that disproportionately treated white patients, which suggests that community members of different races tend to receive care at different hospitals, according to U.S. News. 

4. Ben Harder, managing editor and chief of health analysis at U.S. News, spoke with Becker's about the new equity ratings earlier this month and said the measures are descriptive data only — not judgments.

"We are not saying that every hospital should have exactly the same proportion of patients in their hospital as their community," he said of the analysis. "There are various reasons it might be different, and there may not be anything wrong with it, and there may not be anything possible to do about it."

5. That said, research shows patients from minority backgrounds tend to be treated at lower quality hospitals. If patients are being segregated to different hospitals or care, hospital leaders can't expect to achieve equitable outcomes, according to Mr. Harder.

"It's just descriptive, but it does paint a very informative picture about the patchwork of how different populations are cared for in this country and where they are cared for," he said. "That is critical information for us and healthcare leaders to have as we try to understand how we can address disparities in this country."

To view the full analysis, click here.

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