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A new study reportedly revealed that the risk of death after a traumatic brain injury is twice as high among people of color as it is among whites. Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) reviewed the outcomes from more than 6,300 traumatic brain injury patients treated at the university’s hospital between 2006 and 2017 for the study. According to the researchers, the study is the first to examine racial and ethnic disparities among brain trauma patients.
The outcome showed that the death rate among patients who identified as part of racial or ethnic minority groups was at 14.6%, compared with the 9.9% from overall deaths. The researchers concluded that minority patients had just over twice the risk of dying in the hospital than white patients, after reportedly adjusting for age, severity of injury and other factors.
They said their findings highlight underlying racial health disparities. “If you ran the same analysis with patients with pneumonia, you might find the same results,” study senior author Dr. Ahmed Raslan, an associate professor of neurological surgery, reportedly said. In a university news release, Raslan reportedly said: “Our findings point to the problem in a more robust and clear way. The problem is rooted in social determinants of health, including factors such as diet, lifestyle, occupations and access to health care.”
The researchers reportedly explained: “We have a societal and professional duty to recognize and accept that the effects of structural racism have taken hold of our patients’ health long before they arrive in our trauma bays, ICU beds and operating tables. These disparities permeate our society and contribute to inequitable health outcomes, and we must take action to identify the factors which perpetuate this disproportionate suffering.”
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) have become a recent health crisis, and there are new federal and California laws in place to prevent such injuries. TBI has contributed to the deaths of more than one million people in the U.S. over the last two decades. The most recent TBI data available show that there were nearly 61,000 TBI-related deaths in 2019, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Similar to OHSU’s research, the CDC had previously pointed out that the group with the higher rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and deaths was American Indian/Alaska Native children and adults. The agency says the factors that contribute to this disparity include higher rates of motor vehicle crashes, substance use, and suicide, as well as difficulties in accessing appropriate healthcare. Moreover, people living in rural areas have a greater risk of dying from a TBI compared to people living in urban areas, given the distances needed to travel for medical care and less access to specialized care, like a trauma center or receiving TBI care.
Other groups with a higher chance of sustaining a TBI include military service men and veterans, people in correctional or detention facilities, unhoused people, and survivors of intimate partner violence.