Health Disparities in Veterans: A Map of the Evidence

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Abstract

Background:

Goals for improving the quality of care for all Veterans and eliminating health disparities are outlined in the Veterans Health Administration Blueprint for Excellence, but the degree to which disparities in utilization, health outcomes, and quality of care affect Veterans is not well understood.

Objectives:

To characterize the research on health care disparities in the Veterans Health Administration by means of a map of the evidence.

Research Design:

We conducted a systematic search for research studies published from 2006 to February 2016 in MEDLINE and other data sources. We included studies of Veteran populations that examined disparities in 3 outcome categories: utilization, quality of health care, and patient health.

Measures:

We abstracted data on study design, setting, population, clinical area, outcomes, mediators, and presence of disparity for each outcome category. We grouped the data by population characteristics including race, disability status, mental illness, demographics (age, era of service, rural location, and distance from care), sex identity, socioeconomic status, and homelessness, and created maps illustrating the evidence.

Results:

We reviewed 4249 citations and abstracted data from 351 studies which met inclusion criteria. Studies examining disparities by race/ethnicity comprised by far the vast majority of the literature, followed by studies examining disparities by sex, and mental health condition. Very few studies examined disparities related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identity or homelessness. Disparities findings vary widely by population and outcome.

Conclusions:

Our evidence maps provide a “lay of the land” and identify important gaps in knowledge about health disparities experienced by different Veteran populations.

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