Black patients do not have the same level of access to new, safer heart surgery procedures as white patients, a new study suggests.

Traditional heart surgery, which involves fully opening the chest and cutting through the breastbone, comes with a high risk of complications and a long recovery time. Newer minimally invasive procedures avoid a lot of that risk and can get people back on their feet quicker.

“We’ve known for 35 years that historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups tend to have less access to cardiovascular procedures,” says Laurent G. Glance, professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), and lead author of the study, published in JAMA Network Open.

“This study highlights the fact that even in 2022 if you’re not white, you don’t get the same therapies that white people do.”

Less access to less invasive heart surgery

The study found that non-Hispanic Black patients had 35% lower odds of undergoing minimally invasive mitral valve surgery and 62% higher odds of having serious complications or dying compared to non-Hispanic white patients. Hispanic patients, on the other hand, had 26% higher odds of major complications or death compared to white patients, but they were not less likely to get minimally invasive surgery.

The findings were based on an analysis of data from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons National Adult Cardiac Surgery Database and included nearly 104,000 patients across 1,085 hospitals who underwent mitral valve surgery between 2014 and 2019.

Minimally invasive surgeries set patients up for the best outcomes,” says coauthor Peter W. Knight, professor in cardiac surgery. “That is why the inequities we found in this study are so troubling.”

The authors note several patterns in the data that may point to factors contributing to this inequity: Black patients were more likely to have Medicaid insurance, seek treatment at under-resourced hospitals, and be treated by less experienced surgeons. While these patterns require further investigation, they may offer solutions.

Read the full article about Black patients and heart surgery by Susanne Pallo at Futurity.