Although African-Americans tend to experience worse health outcomes than whites, there’s one major exception, based on a recent analysis of mortality risk among patients belonging to the U.S. Veterans Health Administration.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study compared key health outcomes of African-American vs. white veterans. Many studies have shown that African-Americans have greater risk of heart disease and death compared to whites. While there’s no single explanation for health disparities, access to health care is plays a major role. African-Americans are more likely to face barriers to health care and their health suffers as a result.
To learn more about the relationship between outcomes and access to care, researchers analyzed health records of more than 3 million patients receiving care from the U.S. Veterans Health Administration. The Veterans Health Administration is an integrated health care system with over 1,700 sites that serve nearly 9 million veterans each year. Using data from this large health system, researchers hoped to learn more about outcomes in African-Americans and whites by eliminating differences in access to care.
In total, researchers analyzed health records of nearly 550,000 African-American and 2.5 million white patients in the Veterans Health Administration. Since African-Americans with kidney disease tend to have better outcomes than their white counterparts, researchers only included patients free of kidney disease in their study.
After analysis, researchers found that African-American veterans had 37% lower risk of heart disease and 24% lower risk of death than white veterans. In comparison, analysis of the general U.S. population shows that African-Americans have 42% higher risk of death than whites.
So what do these results mean? According to experts, it’s complicated. This analysis included a very specific group of patients belonging to the U.S. Veterans Health Administration. Although African-Americans had lower risk of mortality than whites in this study, findings can’t be applied to the entire U.S. population because this certainly isn’t the case for non-veteran populations.
Researchers also point out that there may be a number of explanations for the study findings. It’s possible that white veterans tend to be less healthy than whites in the general U.S. population. It’s also possible that improvements in the VA health care system have helped improve outcomes for African-Americans. So while the study raises many interesting questions, additional research is needed to better understand the many factors that influence health disparities in minorities.