UCLA Analysis Finds Another Racial Health Disparity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the first six months of the pandemic, as people attempted to stay away from hospitals caring for those sick with COVID-19, potentially avoidable hospitalizations for non-COVID-19–related conditions fell far more among White patients than Black patients, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The findings indicate that the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated existing racial health care disparities and suggest that during the pandemic, African Americans may have had worse access than Whites to outpatient care that could have helped prevent deterioration of their non–COVID-19 health conditions, according to Richard Leuchter, a resident physician at UCLA Health and lead author of the study.

The researchers found that during the 2020 time period, 7.2 percent of hospitalizations were potentially avoidable, compared with 8.9 percent of hospitalizations during the same six-month period in 2019. While such hospitalizations dropped by 50 percent for non-Hispanic Whites from 2019 to 2020, they dropped a statistically insignificant 8 percent for African Americans. These hospitalizations — for conditions ranging from diabetes and asthma to hypertension — disproportionately exposed African Americans to the financial burdens of missing work and hospital costs, separated them from their families, and increased their risk of hospital-acquired infections, the researchers say.

“A campaign to reduce avoidable hospital admissions could have an enormous positive impact on people of color by minimizing the harms to which they are exposed through such hospitalizations,” Dr. Leuchter said.

The full study, “Racial Disparities in Potentially Avoidable Hospitalizations During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was published on the website of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It may be accessed here.

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