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Racial disparities in length of stay among severely ill patients presenting with sepsis and acute respiratory failure

JAMA Network Open May 8, 2023

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Research Areas


IMPORTANCE: Although racial and ethnic minority patients with sepsis and acute respiratory failure (ARF) experience worse outcomes, how patient presentation characteristics, processes of care, and hospital resource delivery are associated with outcomes is not well understood.

OBJECTIVE: To measure disparities in hospital length of stay (LOS) among patients at high risk of adverse outcomes who present with sepsis and/or ARF and do not immediately require life support and to quantify associations with patient- and hospital-level factors.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This matched retrospective cohort study used electronic health record data from 27 acute care teaching and community hospitals across the Philadelphia metropolitan and northern California areas between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2018. Matching analyses were performed between June 1 and July 31, 2022. The study included 102 362 adult patients who met clinical criteria for sepsis (n = 84 685) or ARF (n = 42 008) with a high risk of death at the time of presentation to the emergency department but without an immediate requirement for invasive life support.

EXPOSURES: Racial or ethnic minority self-identification.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Hospital LOS, defined as the time from hospital admission to the time of discharge or inpatient death. Matches were stratified by racial and ethnic minority patient identity, comparing Asian and Pacific Islander patients, Black patients, Hispanic patients, and multiracial patients with White patients in stratified analyses.

RESULTS: Among 102 362 patients, the median (IQR) age was 76 (65-85) years; 51.5% were male. A total of 10.2% of patients self-identified as Asian American or Pacific Islander, 13.7% as Black, 9.7% as Hispanic, 60.7% as White, and 5.7% as multiracial. After matching racial and ethnic minority patients to White patients on clinical presentation characteristics, hospital capacity strain, initial intensive care unit admission, and the occurrence of inpatient death, Black patients experienced longer LOS relative to White patients in fully adjusted matches (sepsis: 1.26 [95% CI, 0.68-1.84] days; ARF: 0.97 [95% CI, 0.05-1.89] days). Length of stay was shorter among Asian American and Pacific Islander patients with ARF (-0.61 [95% CI, -0.88 to -0.34] days) and Hispanic patients with sepsis (-0.22 [95% CI, -0.39 to -0.05] days) or ARF (-0.47 [-0.73 to -0.20] days).

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this cohort study, Black patients with severe illness who presented with sepsis and/or ARF experienced longer LOS than White patients. Hispanic patients with sepsis and Asian American and Pacific Islander and Hispanic patients with ARF both experienced shorter LOS. Because matched differences were independent of commonly implicated clinical presentation-related factors associated with disparities, identification of additional mechanisms that underlie these disparities is warranted.


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute