Ethnic differences in the relationship between access to health care and survival are difficult to define because of many confounding factors, such as socioeconomic status and baseline differences in health. Because the Veterans Affairs health care system offers health care largely without financial considerations, it provides an ideal setting in which to identify and understand ethnic differences in health outcomes. Previous studies in this area have lacked clinical and cardiovascular data with which to adjust for baseline differences in patients' health.
Data were collected from consecutive men referred for resting electrocardiography (ECG) (n = 41 087) or exercise testing (n = 6213) during 12 years. We compared ethnic differences in survival between whites, blacks, and Hispanics after considering baseline differences in age and hospitalization status. We also adjusted for electrocardiogram abnormalities and cardiac risk factors, exercise test results, and cardiovascular comorbidities.
White patients tended to be older and had more baseline comorbidities and cardiovascular interventions when they presented for testing. White patients had increased mortality rates compared with blacks and Hispanics. In the ECG population, after adjusting for demographics and baseline electrocardiogram abnormalities, Hispanics had improved survival compared with whites and blacks. In the exercise test population, after adjusting for the same factors, as well as adjusting for the presence of cardiovascular comorbidities, cardiac risk factors, and exercise test findings, Hispanics also exhibited improved survival compared with the other 2 ethnicities. There were no differences in mortality rates between whites and blacks.
Our findings demonstrate that the health care provided to veterans referred for routine ECG or exercise testing is not associated with poorer survival in ethnic minorities.