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Commemorating Minority Health Month

April is Minority Health Month, which focuses on reducing health disparities in underserved communities. We know that health disparities exist at every stage of life for Black, Latino, Indigenous, and Asian American communities, including at the end of life. Just this month, the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) underscored that racism is a public health threat. In the end-of-life space, countless studies have shown the important effects of hospice and palliative care on quality of life, but disparities persist. 

Just this month, two studies have shown this fact in people who have had strokes and people with ovarian cancer. In one study, published in Cancer, researchers found that women, especially non-white women, continue to receive aggressive forms of treatment at the end-of-life. Non-white women were more likely to have life-extending procedures and non-Hispanic Black women were more likely to have multiple emergency room visits and undergo life-extending procedures than non-Hispanic white women. Megan Mullins, Ph.D., M.P.H., first author of the study, concluded in a press release, “Engaging in conversations with patients about the goals of their care allows them to consider how they would like to spend the time they have left.”

Another study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that disparities persist in who gets palliative or hospice care after having a stroke. In hospital data from 2006 to 2015, researchers found that use of palliative services was 41% lower among Black stroke patients compared to white patients. The lead author of the study, Farhaan S. Vahidy, Ph.D., M.B.B.S., M.P.H., FAHA, said in a press release, “More work needs to be done to improve access and availability to more stroke patient, to enhance communication with patients and their care providers and to empower patients to make decisions about their care as they recover from and adjust to such a life-altering health event.”

These studies are more evidence that we must address health inequity at the end of life and everyday. They show that conversations between families and their healthcare team are critical to empowering people to chart their own end-of-life journey. This Minority Health Month is a time to take action and continue the conversations about end-of-life care in our communities.