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Research Objective: Described as one of the most serious health problems affecting the nation, racial disparities are estimated to account for >83,000 deaths, >$57 billion per year. They have been identified in multiple surgical settings, including differences in outcomes by race among emergency general surgery(EGS) patients. As many minority patients are uninsured, increasing access to care is thought to be a viable solution to mitigate inequities. The objectives of this study were to determine whether racial disparities in 30/90/180day outcomes exist within a universally-insured population of military/civilian-dependent EGS patients and whether differences in outcomes differentially persist in care received at military-vs-civilian hospitals and among sponsors who are enlisted-service members-vs-officers. It also considered longer-term outcomes of care.

Study Design: Risk-adjusted survival analyses using Cox proportional-hazards models assessed race-based differences in mortality, major morbidity, and readmission from index-hospital admission (discharge for readmission) through 30/90/180days. Models accounted for hospital clustering and possible biases associated with missing race (reweighted-estimating equations). Sub-analyses considered effects restricted to operative interventions, stratified by 24 EGS-diagnostic categories defined by the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma(AAST), and effect modification related to rank (SES-proxy: officers-vs-enlisted-sponsors) and military-vs-civilian-hospital care.

Population Studied: Five years of national TRICARE Prime/Prime-plus data, which provides insurance to active/reserve/retired members of the US Armed Services and dependents, were queried for adults (≥18y) with primary EGS conditions, defined by the AAST. Patients who did not have an index admission between 01/01/2006-01/07/2010 (minimum 180days follow-up) or who were not continuously enrolled in TRICARE for 180days were excluded. Non-surviving patients were retained while they survived.

Principal Findings: A total of 101,011 patients were included: 73.5% White, 14.5% Black, 4.4% Asian, 7.7% other. Risk-adjusted analyses reported equivalent-or-better mortality and readmission outcomes among minority patients at 30/90/180days—even when restricted to civilian hospitals where studies suggest that EGS disparities are found. Readmissions within military hospitals were lower among minority patients. Major morbidity was higher among Black versus White patients (HR[95%CI]): 30day-1.23[1.13-1.35], 90day-1.18[1.09-1.28], 180day-1.15[1.07-1.24]—a finding driven by appendiceal disorders (HR:1.69-1.70). No other diagnostic category-based HR was significant. When considered by rank, significant effects were isolated to enlisted-service members. However, given the relatively small number of patients who were (dependents of) officers, it is difficult to determine whether rank-based findings are a result of social determinants or influenced by the limited number of minority patients.

Conclusions: The first of its kind to examine racial disparities in longer-term outcomes of EGS care, this longitudinal analysis of military patients demonstrated apparent mitigation of racial disparities within a universally-insured health system when compared to the overall US health system. Efforts to explain findings based on consideration of care provided in military-vs-civilian hospitals, among specific EGS-diagnostic categories, and based on sponsor rank revealed modification of the association between race and outcomes to some extent for all three.

Implications for Policy or Practice: The contrast between results for universally-insured military/civilian-dependent patients and reported disparities among all US civilian patients merits consideration. The data speak to the importance of insurance-coverage in the development of disparities interventions nationwide and will help to inform policy within the DoD.


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