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J Am Coll Cardiol. 1994 Nov 1;24(5):1297-304.

Variation in utilization of cardiac procedures in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system: effect of race.

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  • 1Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Memphis, Tennessee.



Utilization rates for cardiac catheterization and cardiac surgery in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system were studied to determine whether racial differences existed in a delivery plan in which access is not determined by patient finances.


Prior studies have demonstrated significant differences in utilization of cardiac diagnostic and therapeutic resources by white and black patients. Reasons for the reduced utilization by black patients include socioeconomic, biologic and sociocultural effects.


Computerized discharge records of 30,300 patients with coronary artery disease and 1,335 patients with valvular heart disease who were discharged from any of 172 VA Medical Centers between October 1, 1990 and September 30, 1991 were studied.


For patients with coronary artery disease, utilization rates of cardiac catheterization were significantly greater for white patients (503.4 procedures/1,000 patients) than for black patients (433.2/1,000 patients), with a relative odds ratio of 1.33. Rates for surgery (179.0 vs. 124.5/1,000 patients) were also greater for whites than for blacks, with a relative odds ratio of 1.53. For the subset with valve disease, the catheterization rate was significantly greater for whites than for blacks (575.4 vs. 432.6 procedures/1,000 patients), with a relative odds ratio of 1.78. Surgical rates were not significantly different (423.8 vs. 354.6 operations/1,000 patients). Racial differences for both catheterization and surgery varied widely as a function of geographic region and the level of complexity of the local VA facility.


Racial differences in resource utilization exist in a health care system in which economic influences are minimized. The pattern of these differences depends on numerous variables and suggests both biologic and sociocultural factors as underlying causes.

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