Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Patient Safety

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Although there is extensive evidence on disparities in the process and outcomes of health care, data on racial and ethnic disparities in patient safety remain inconclusive in the United States.


The aims of this study were to (1) explore differences in reporting race/ethnicity in studies on disparities in patient safety; (2) assess adjustment for socioeconomic status, comorbidity, and disease severity; and (3) make recommendations on the inclusion of race/ethnicity for future studies on adverse events.


We searched PubMed database (for articles published from 1991 to May 1, 2013) using a predetermined criteria for studies on racial and ethnic disparities in patient safety. Only quantitative studies that used chart review or administrative data for the detection of adverse events were considered for eligibility. Two reviewers independently extracted data on inclusion of race/ethnicity in baseline characteristics and in stratification of outcomes.


A total of 174 studies were initially obtained from the search. Of these, 24 met inclusion criteria and received full-text review. Meta-analysis was not performed because of the methodological and statistical heterogeneity between studies. Eight studies included race/ethnicity in baseline characteristics and adjusted for confounders. Hospital-level variations such teaching status and percentage of minorities served were infrequently analyzed.


To our knowledge, this is the first methodological review of racial/ethnic disparities in patient safety in the United States. The evidence on the existence of disparities in adverse events was mixed. Poor stratification of outcomes by race/ethnicity and consideration of geographic and hospital-level variations explain the inconclusive evidence; variations in the quality of care at hospitals should be considered in studies using national databases.

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