Which Hospital Factors Are Linked With Timely Fracture Care?

Patients who seek fracture care at a facility that treats a higher proportion of patients from racial or ethnic minorities or a higher number of uninsured patients are more likely to face a longer-than-recommended delay in treatment, according to new data.

Regardless of individual patient-level characteristics such as race, ethnicity, or insurance status, these patients were more likely to miss the recommended 24-hour benchmark for surgery.

Dr Ida Leah Gitajn

“Institutions that treat a less diverse patient population appeared to be more resilient to the mix of insurance status in their patient population and were more likely to meet time-to-surgery benchmarks, regardless of patient insurance status or population-based insurance mix,” write study author Ida Leah Gitajn, MD, an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and colleagues.

“While it is unsurprising that increased delays were associated with underfunded institutions, the association between institutional-level racial disparity and surgical delays implies structural health systems bias,” the authors wrote.

The study was published online November 30 in JAMA Network Open.

Site Performance Varied

Racial inequalities in healthcare utilization and outcomes have been documented in many medical specialties, including orthopedic trauma, the study authors write. However, previous studies evaluating racial disparities in fracture care have been limited to patient-level associations rather than hospital-level factors.

The investigators conducted a secondary analysis of prospectively collected multicenter data for 2565 patients with hip and femur fractures enrolled in two randomized trials at 23 sites in the United States and Canada. The researchers assessed whether disparities in meeting 24-hour time-to-surgery benchmarks exist at the patient level or at the institutional level, evaluating the association of race, ethnicity, and insurance status.

The cohort study used data from the Program of Randomized Trials to Evaluate Preoperative Antiseptic Skin Solutions in Orthopaedic Trauma (PREP-IT), which enrolled patients from 2018-2021 and followed them for 1 year. All patients with hip and femur fractures enrolled in the PREP-IT program were included in the analysis, which was conducted from April to September of this year.

The cohort included 2565 patients with an average age of about 65 years. About 82% of patients were White, 13.4% were Black, 3.2% were Asian, and 1.1% were classified as another race or ethnicity. Among the study population, 32.5% of participants were employed, and 92.2% had health insurance. Nearly 40% had a femur fracture with an average injury severity score of 10.4.

Overall, 596 patients (23.2%) didn’t meet the 24-hour time-to-operating-room benchmark. Patients who didn’t meet the 24-hour surgical window were more likely to be older, women, and have a femur fracture. They were less likely to be employed.

The 23 sites had variability in meeting the 24-hour benchmark, race and ethnicity distribution, and population-based health insurance. Institutions met benchmarks at frequencies ranging from 45.2% (for 196 of 433 procedures) to 97.4% (37 of 38 procedures). Minority race and ethnicity distribution ranged from 0% (in 99 procedures) to 58.2% (in 53 of 91 procedures). The proportion of uninsured patients ranged from 0% (in 64 procedures) to 34.2% (in 13 of 38 procedures).

At the patient level, there was no association between missing the 24-hour benchmark and race or ethnicity, and there was no independent association between hospital population racial composition and surgical delay. In an analysis that controlled for patient-level characteristics, there was no association between missing the 24-hour benchmark and patient-level insurance status.

There was an independent association, however, between the hospital population insurance coverage and hospital population racial composition as an interaction term, suggesting a moderating effect (P = .03), the study authors write.

At low rates of uninsured patients, the probability of missing the 24-hour benchmark was 12.5%–14.6% when racial composition varied from 0%–50% minority patients. In contrast, at higher rates of uninsured patients, the risk of missing the 24-hour window was higher among more diverse populations. For instance, at 30% uninsured, the risk of missing the benchmark was 0.5% when the racial composition was low and 17.6% at 50% minority patients.

Additional studies are needed to understand the findings and how health system programs or structures play a role, the authors write. For instance, well-funded health systems that care for a higher proportion of insured patients likely have quality improvement programs and other support structures, such as operating room access, that ensure appropriate time-to-surgery benchmarks for time-sensitive fractures, they say.

Addressing Inequalities

Commenting on the findings for Medscape, Troy Amen, MD, MBA, an orthopedic surgery resident at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, said, “Despite these disparities being reported and well documented in recent years, unfortunately, not enough has been done to address them or understand their fundamental root causes.”

Amen, who wasn’t involved with this study, has researched racial and ethnic disparities in hip fracture surgery care across the US. He and his colleagues found disparities in delayed time-to-surgery, particularly for black patients.

Dr Troy Amen

“We live in a country and society where we want and strive for equality of care for patients regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or background,” he said. “We have a moral imperative to address these disparities as healthcare providers, not only among ourselves, but also in conjunction with lawmakers, hospital administrators, and health policy specialists.”

Uma Srikumaran, MD, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, wasn’t involved with this study but has researched racial disparities in the timing of radiographic assessment and surgical treatment of hip fractures.

“Though we understand that racial disparities are pervasive in healthcare, we have a great deal left to understand about the extent of those disparities and all the various factors that contribute to them,” Srikumaran told Medscape.

Srikumaran and colleagues have found that Black patients had longer wait times for evaluation and surgery than White patients.

“We all want to get to the solutions, but those can be difficult to execute without an intricate understanding of the problem,” he said. “We should encourage this type of research all throughout healthcare in general, but also very locally, as solutions are not likely to be one-size-fits-all.”

Srikumaran pointed to the need to measure the problem in specific pathologies, populations, geographies, hospital types, and other factors.

Dr Uma Srikumaran

“Studying the trends of this issue will help us determine whether our national or local initiatives are making a difference and which interventions are most effective for a particular hospital, geographic location, or particular pathology,” he said. “Accordingly, if a particular hospital or health system isn’t looking at differences in the delivery of care by race, they are missing an opportunity to ensure equity and raise overall quality.”

The study was supported by funding from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Gitajn reported receiving personal fees for consulting and teaching work from Stryker outside the submitted work. Amen and Srikumaran reported no relevant financial relationships.

JAMA Netw Open. Published November 30, 2022. Full text

Carolyn Crist is a health and medical journalist who reports on the latest studies for Medscape, MDedge, and WebMD.

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