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Health Team

Study: Race May Be Factor in Treatment After Heart Attack

Posted June 12, 2007 2:22 p.m. EDT
Updated June 12, 2007 6:57 p.m. EDT

— A new study shows that white patients are more likely to receive appropriate, specialized treatment after a heart attack than black patients are.

After a heart attack, doctors often need to open blocked arteries in the heart, but not every patient who needs that specialized treatment gets it.

"Black patients were consistently less likely to receive specialized heart treatments as compared to white patients, even after transfer to hospitals providing these treatments," said Dr. Iona Popescu, of the University of Iowa.

Popescu led a review of the Medicare records of more than a million heart attack patients in the United States over five years. The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were significant.

Compared with white patients, black patients were about 20 percent less likely to be transferred to hospitals that provide specialized heart services. Overall,  they were about 30 percent less likely to get those services.

"We are truly uncertain of what causes these differences," Popescu said.

"One concern is that the patients are being viewed differently by the physicians," said Dr. Kim Allen, of the University of Chicago.

Allen said there is also an attitude problem within the black community that may keep many people from accepting appropriate care.

"Because there's a distrust of the system, going back historically with good reason and not realizing that things are different now and that these people are not out to hurt you," Allen said.

Popescu said she hopes those attitudes can change if both doctors and patients focus on quality and that should help equalize care.