Black Patients Have Higher Post-Surgery Mortality Rate Than White Patients

Systemic racism is at the core of U.S. health care disparities, the CDC says.

A study on post-surgery mortality adds to the mountain of evidence showing that systemic racism is at the root of health care disparities.

Black patients were 42 percent more likely than White patients to die within 30 days of surgery, lead researcher Dr. Christian Mpody told attendees Sunday (Oct. 15) at a meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, according to United Press International.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Surgery, examined more than 1.5 million high-risk surgeries on patients under age 65 performed at thousands of U.S. hospitals between 2000 and 2020. The procedures included heart and vascular surgeries, neurosurgeries and organ transplants, among a wide range of surgeries.

Overall, the study found that Black and Hispanic patients were more likely to die within a month of surgery than White patients – even when accounting for age, number of chronic health conditions and socioeconomics. The Hispanic mortality rate was 21 percent higher than White patients.

During the 20 years of the study, the post-surgery mortality rate declined across the board as high-risk operations became safer. However, the racial and ethnic gap persisted.

“These persisting disparities raise the question of whether recent advances in perioperative care, including the national political will to confront health disparities, can address the needs of an increasingly diverse U.S. population,” the researchers wrote.

Mpody blamed several factors for the persistent racial health disparities, including a lack of health insurance, quality of care and social determinants like housing and access to nutritious food.

"Doctors think, 'I'll apply the same standard of care to everybody,' and that's equal care," Mpody said. "But that's not equity, because your patients are not all starting from the same place. We need to meet them where they are."

Study: Black People Live Longer In Areas Where There Are More Black Primary Care Doctors

Structural and interpersonal racism are the fundamental causes of health disparities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC said racial and ethnic minorities suffer higher rates of poor health and diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, compared to White Americans. That contributes to Black Americans having a life expectancy of four years less than White Americans.

“To build a healthier America for all, we must confront the systems and policies that have resulted in the generational injustice that has given rise to racial and ethnic health inequities,” the CDC said.

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