Racial, Ethnic, and Socioeconomic Disparities in Prehospital Encounters for Children with Asthma

Sylvia Owusu-Ansah*, Remle P. Crowe, Sriram Ramgopal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective: Asthma represents one of the most common medical conditions among children encountered by emergency medical services (EMS). While care disparities for children with asthma have been observed in other healthcare settings, limited data exist characterizing disparities in prehospital care. We sought to characterize differences in prehospital treatment and transport of children with suspected asthma exacerbations by race and ethnicity, within the context of community socioeconomic status. Methods: We conducted a multi-agency retrospective study of EMS encounters in 2019 for children (2–17 years) with asthma and wheezing using a national prehospital database. Our primary outcomes included EMS transport and prehospital bronchodilator or systemic corticosteroid administration. Scene socioeconomic status was evaluated using the social vulnerability index. We used generalized estimating equations to estimate adjusted odds ratios (aOR) and 95% confidence intervals (95%CI) for prehospital bronchodilator use or steroid use by race and ethnicity, adjusting for age, presence of abnormal vital signs, community size, bronchodilator use prior to EMS arrival, and transport disposition. Results: We analyzed 5,266 EMS encounters (median age 8 years). Approximately half (53%) were Black non-Hispanic and 34% were White non-Hispanic. Overall, 77% were transported by EMS. In an adjusted model, Black non-Hispanic children were 25% less likely to be transported compared to White non-Hispanic children (aOR: 0.75, 95%CI: 0.58–0.96). EMS administered at least one bronchodilator to 81% of Black non-Hispanic patients, 73% of Hispanic patients, and 68% of White, non-Hispanic patients. Relative to White non-Hispanic children, EMS bronchodilator administration was greater for Black non-Hispanic children, (aOR: 1.55, 95%CI: 1.25–1.93), after controlling for scene socioeconomic status and potential confounding variables. Systemic corticosteroids were administered in 3% of all encounters. Odds of prehospital systemic corticosteroid administration did not differ significantly by race and ethnicity. Conclusion: Black non-Hispanic children comprised a larger proportion of EMS encounters for asthma and were more likely to receive a bronchodilator in adjusted analyses accounting for community socioeconomic status. However, these children were less likely to be transported by EMS. These findings may reflect disease severity not manifested by abnormal vital signs, management, and other social factors that warrant further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1107-1114
Number of pages8
JournalPrehospital Emergency Care
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency
  • Emergency Medicine


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