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J Palliat Med. 2018 Jan;21(1):69-77. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2016.0557. Epub 2017 Nov 6.

The Paradox of End-of-Life Hospital Treatment Intensity among Black Patients: A Retrospective Cohort Study.

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1 The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice , Geisel School of Medicine, Lebanon , New Hampshire.
2 Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine , Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
3 Department of Biostatistics, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health , Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
4 Department of Health Care Policy and Management, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health , Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
5 Department of Critical Care Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine , Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.



Black patients are more likely than white patients to die in the hospital with intensive care and life-sustaining treatments and less likely to use hospice. Regional concentration of high end-of-life (EOL) treatment intensity practice patterns may disproportionately affect black patients. We calculated and compared race-specific hospital-level EOL treatment intensity in Pennsylvania.


We conducted a retrospective cohort analysis of Pennsylvania acute care hospital admissions, 2001-2007, among black and white admissions ≥21 years old at high probability of dying (HPD) (≥15% predicted probability of dying at admission). We calculated hospitals' race-specific observed, expected, and Bayes' shrunken observed-to-expected ratios of intensive care unit (ICU) admission, ICU length of stay (LOS), intubation/mechanical ventilation, hemodialysis, tracheostomy, and gastrostomy among HPD admissions; and an empirically weighted EOL treatment intensity index summing these ratios.


There were 35,609 black HPD admissions (27,576 unique patients) and 311,896 white HPD admissions (252,662 unique patients) to 182 hospitals. Among 95 hospitals with ≥30 black HPD admissions, 80% of black admissions were concentrated in 29 hospitals, where black-specific observed and expected EOL measures were usually higher than white-specific measures (p < 0.001 for all but 5/24 measures). Hospitals' black-specific and white-specific observed-to-expected ratios of ICU and life-sustaining treatment (LST) (rho 0.52-0.90) and EOL index (rho = 0.92) were highly correlated. However, black-specific observed-to-expected ratios and overall EOL intensity index were consistently lower than white-specific ratios (p < 0.001 for all except hemodialysis).


In Pennsylvania, black-serving hospitals have higher standardized EOL treatment intensity than nonblack-serving hospitals, contributing to black patients' relatively higher use of intensive treatment. However, conditional on being admitted to the same high-intensity hospital and after risk adjustment, blacks are less intensively treated than whites.


disparity; hospital profiling; intensive care; life support; race; terminal care

[Available on 2019-01-01]

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