Black children receive less pain medication for appendicitis than whites, study reveals

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Sep 15, 2015 06:14 AM EDT

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 13: A sign points towards the Accident and Emergency department of St Thomas' Hospital on October 13, 2011 in London, England. Inspections carried out by the Care Quality Commission in England have found concerns in the standard of basic elderly care in over half the hospitals assessed. (Photo : Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

A new study reveals that black children with appendicitis receive less pain medication than their white counterparts.

Children and even teens with appendicitis, which is a painful condition caused by the inflammation of the appendix, appear to receive less pain medication and opioid medication than white patients. The findings are detailed in the journal Pediatrics.

"I've seen a lot of patients with appendicitis, it's a very painful surgical condition. Pain management with opioids is one of the mainstays of treatment," Dr. Monika Goyal, lead author of the study from the Children's National Health System, told Reuters by phone. "We were surprised that less than 60 percent of all kids received any analgesia . . . and among the kids that actually received it, why there were such marked racial differences in use of opioids."

For the study, Goyal and her colleagues analyzed the data from the 2003 - 2010 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey on nearly a million patients who are minors with appendicitis who were treated in an emergency room. They found that only 57 percent were given pain killers and about 41 percent received opioid medication. In the total number of black children who were treated, only 12 percent were given opioids, which according to UPI, is 20 percent less than the whites.

The study was not intended to determine why racial disparity affects a patient's pain management and care, Dr. Goyal said in the report by Reuters.

"Not all patients with appendicitis experience the same pain - it is highly variable depending on the duration of symptoms and the degree of inflammation. Typically, however, analgesics are prescribed for appendicitis," said Dr. Neil Schechter in a commentary published in JAMA Pediatrics.

"It should also be noted that these data were collected between 2003 and 2010, so some of this information is over a decade old and one might hope that things would be different if the data were collected today," said Dr. Eric Fleegler of Boston Children's Hospital, Dr. Schechter's colleague added.

"The bottom line with all of this is that pain matters, its treatment should be patient centered and individualized, and every patient should feel reassured that they will be treated equally," Schechter and Fleegler explained to Reuters.

Goyal added that factors such as insurance coverage, societal status, ability to pay, and especially race should not be grounds for receiving subpar care in the emergency room.

"Really understanding racial disparities in healthcare is extremely important," Goyal said, via Medical Daily. "Once we acknowledge that these types of disparities exist, we can move on to developing interventions to achieve health equity."

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