Background: While studies have found racial differences in the rates of use of established invasive cardiac and cerebrovascular procedures, no study has evaluated racial variation in the rates of adoption of new surgical procedures. For patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the procedure represents a new and safe option that shortens the duration of postoperative hospitalization by almost one week. In this study, we evaluated whether, in the equal access Veterans Affairs (VA) medical system, the rate of adoption of this procedure and improvements in the duration of postoperative hospitalization differed between African-American and Caucasian patients. Study Design: Data were obtained from two sources-administrative claims files and prospectively compiled clinical data from medical records and patient interviews. In both data sets, frequency of use, length of stay, and outcomes for African-American and Caucasian patients undergoing minimally invasive and open gallbladder surgery were analyzed for the first four years of use of the procedure in the VA system (1992 to 1995). Results: Analyses based on claims files indicated that, after adjustment for potentially confounding variables, African-American patients who underwent cholecystectomy in VA medical centers were 25% less likely to undergo a minimally invasive cholecystectomy during the first 4 years of use of the new procedure (adjusted odds ratio, 0.74; 95% confidence interval, 0.66-0.83). Shortening of the average postoperative length of stay from 9 days or more in the prelaparoscopic era to less than 4.5 days for patients undergoing the laparoscopic procedure occurred in the first year for Caucasian patients, but did not occur until the fourth year for African-American patients (p < 0.001). The overall difference in postoperative length of stay between African-American and Caucasian patients more than doubled from 1.7 days before introduction of laparoscopic cholecystectomy to 3.8 days in the fourth year. In comparison, analyses based on nurse-compiled clinical data indicated that, after adjustment for relevant clinical factors, racial variations in the rate of laparoscopic surgery were even larger (adjusted odds ratio for laparoscopic versus open cholecystectomy for African-American versus Caucasian veterans, 0.68; 95% confidence interval, 0.55-0.84). Conclusions: Compared to Caucasian patients, African-American patients who underwent cholecystectomy in VA medical centers had an approximately 25% to 32% lower likelihood of undergoing minimally invasive cholecystectomy procedures. The differences in rates of adoption of laparoscopic surgery did not appear to be from more comorbid illnesses among African-American patients. African- American and Caucasian veterans may differ in their preference for new surgical procedures like laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Conversely, VA physicians may have been less likely to recommend laparoscopic cholecystectomies to African-American patients.
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