For The Children: Study Shows Black Children Less Likely To Receive Pain Meds In ER, Likely To Have Longer Stay

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Categories: Babies, Did You Know, For the Children, For Your Information, News, Race Matters

Emergency Room

Just like most places in America, when it comes to hospital emergency rooms — race matters!

Study Shows Black Children Less Likely To Receive Meds For Stomach Pain In Emergency Room

Black children seen in the emergency department for abdominal pain are less likely to receive pain medication than white children, according to a new study.

The research, which also found that black and Hispanic children were more likely to experience an ER stay longer than six hours compared to white children — even when the same tests were ordered — raises questions on how race may affect hospital care when it comes to the youngest patients.

The study was presented Saturday at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Boston.

Lead study author Dr. Tiffani J. Johnson, pediatric emergency medicine fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, says she has a strong interest in improving the quality and equity of care that kids receive in the ER.

“If we don’t recognize disparities, we’re never going to be able to close the gaps,” says Johnson.

Johnson and colleagues used data from the CDC’s National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which included more than 2,000 children from 550 hospitals who visited the ER for abdominal pain between 2006 and 2009.

Black children were 39 percent less likely to receive pain medications compared to white children with similar medical situations. When their pain was severe, rated 7 or higher on a pain scale from 0 to 10, an even larger disparity was observed.

Children are always at greater risk to be undertreated or mistreated compared to adults because of their limited ability to communicate how they feel. Anything else that negatively impacts their care would be important to identify so that providers can be educated.

Past research has shown that race can affect the way that adults express their pain. A 2002 study published in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations found that black patients were less likely to disclose the fact that they were in pain than their white counterparts. When they did discuss their pain they were less likely to describe its intensity.

And doctors might also be less skilled in recognizing the pain of certain races. Specifically, doctors were almost twice as likely to underestimate the pain of black patients compared to other ethnicities in a 2007 study from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine.

Whether either of these findings applies to pain in children is simply not known. Johnson says we need additional studies to find out exactly what factors lead to variations in care.

“Now we need to look at where these differences are coming from,” says Johnson. “Are they at the patient level, the parent level or the physician level?”

In the meantime, Johnson says, her study’s findings offer an important reminder to doctors.

“I hope that providers caring for children will recognize this,” she says, “and make efforts to ensure they are proving appropriate pain control for children of all ethnicities.”

This is pretty alarming. You would think that people would treat children well regardless of their race because they are just children. They need to get to the bottom of these disparities and fix them ASAP.

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