Crit Care Med. 2021 Oct 12. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000005269. Online ahead of print.
OBJECTIVES: Racial disparities in the United States healthcare system are well described across a variety of clinical settings. The ICU is a clinical environment with a higher acuity and mortality rate, potentially compounding the impact of disparities on patients. We sought to systematically analyze the literature to assess the prevalence of racial disparities in the ICU.
DATA SOURCES: We conducted a comprehensive search of PubMed/MEDLINE, Scopus, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Library.
STUDY SELECTION: We identified articles that evaluated racial differences on outcomes among ICU patients in the United States. Two authors independently screened and selected articles for inclusion.
DATA EXTRACTION: We dual-extracted study characteristics and outcomes that assessed for disparities in care (e.g., in-hospital mortality, ICU length of stay). Studies were assessed for bias using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale.
DATA SYNTHESIS: Of 1,325 articles screened, 25 articles were included (n = 751,796 patients). Studies demonstrated race-based differences in outcomes, including higher mortality rates for Black patients when compared with White patients. However, when controlling for confounding variables, such as severity of illness and hospital type, mortality differences based on race were no longer observed. Additionally, results revealed that Black patients experienced greater financial impacts during an ICU admission, were less likely to receive early tracheostomy, and were less likely to receive timely antibiotics than White patients. Many studies also observed differences in patients' end-of-life care, including lower rates on the quality of dying, less advanced care planning, and higher intensity of interventions at the end of life for Black patients.
CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review found significant differences in the care and outcomes among ICU patients of different races. Mortality differences were largely explained by accompanying demographic and patient factors, highlighting the effect of structural inequalities on racial differences in mortality in the ICU. This systematic review provides evidence that structural inequalities in care persist in the ICU, which contribute to racial disparities in care. Future research should evaluate interventions to address inequality in the ICU.