Racial and Ethnic Disparities and Bias in the Evaluation and Reporting of Abusive Head Trauma

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Abstract

Objective

To characterize racial and ethnic disparities in the evaluation and reporting of suspected abusive head trauma (AHT) across the 18 participating sites of the Pediatric Brain Injury Research Network (PediBIRN). We hypothesized that such disparities would be confirmed at multiple sites and occur more frequently in patients with a lower risk for AHT.

Study design

Aggregate and site-specific analysis of the cross-sectional PediBIRN dataset, comparing AHT evaluation and reporting frequencies in subpopulations of white/non-Hispanic and minority race/ethnicity patients with lower vs higher risk for AHT.

Results

In the PediBIRN study sample of 500 young, acutely head-injured patients hospitalized for intensive care, minority race/ethnicity patients (n = 229) were more frequently evaluated (P < .001; aOR, 2.2) and reported (P = .001; aOR, 1.9) for suspected AHT than white/non-Hispanic patients (n = 271). These disparities occurred almost exclusively in lower risk patients, including those ultimately categorized as non-AHT (P = .001 [aOR, 2.4] and P = .003 [aOR, 2.1]) or with an estimated AHT probability of ≤25% (P < .001 [aOR, 4.1] and P < .001 [aOR, 2.8]). Similar site-specific analyses revealed that these results reflected more extreme disparities at only 2 of 18 sites, and were not explained by local confounders.

Conclusion

Significant race/ethnicity-based disparities in AHT evaluation and reporting were observed at only 2 of 18 sites and occurred almost exclusively in lower risk patients. In the absence of local confounders, these disparities likely represent the impact of local physicians’ implicit bias.

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