Racial Disparities in Lipid Control in Patients With Diabetes
Published Online: June 15, 2012
Darcy Saffar, MPH; L. Keoki Williams, MD, MPH; Jennifer Elston Lafata, PhD; George Divine, PhD; and Manel Pladevall, MD, MS
Patients diagnosed with diabetes mellitus (DM) are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) events and mortality than patients with no history of DM.1-4 In an effort to reduce this risk, national guidelines recommend strict hypercholesterolemia management, among other measures, in patients with DM. Racial disparities have been observed not only in the prevalence of DM and its complications but also in the management of hypercholesterolemia (lipid testing, treatment, and control/goal attainment).5-7 In 1 published study, investigators found that even among patients treated for hypercholesterolemia, African American patients were less likely to reach their low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) goal compared with white patients.8 Several reports have shown that even among patients with coronary heart disease (CHD), DM, or hypertension, African Americans are less likely to receive 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitors (ie, statin therapy) for dyslipidemia and/or achieve LDL-C control compared with white patients.9-14
Disparities in access to healthcare and healthcare-seeking behavior may explain why lipid management impact is better among whites than among African Americans.9 These disparities have been attributed to difficulties in accessing healthcare among uninsured minorities, and lower socioeconomic status has been associated with an inferior quality of care received.15,16 Even among insured African Americans, quality of care, particularly lipid treatment and control, is inferior to that received by other racial groups.17-23 However, some findings suggest that patients of differing race and ethnic groups receive equal benefits when treated appropriately.9,24 Further complicating matters, previous studies have also shown racial differences in adherence to lipid-lowering medications among patients with diabetes which might contribute to ethnic and racial disparities.25-28 This paper builds on previous literature by including information on care processes, clinical outcomes, patient sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, office visit and prescription drug copayments, treatment intensification, and medication adherence in the same study. With its large sample size, high proportion of African Americans, and long observation period, this study strengthens and expands previous findings.
To more fully investigate the question of racial disparities in lipid control, we describe annual rates of testing, treatment, and LDL-C goal achievement over a 10-year period in a large cohort of insured patients with diabetes receiving care in an integrated healthcare delivery system. We also evaluate whether dyslipidemia management differed between African American and white patients after controlling for numerous patient clinical characteristics and sociodemographic factors. This includes controlling for economic barriers beyond the mere presence of health insurance with variables such as prescription drug and physician office visit copayments. Further, we explore whether racial differences in rates of LDL-C goal achievement could be explained by racial differences in treatment intensification of and adherence to lipid-lowering drugs.
Study Population and Setting
All study patients received care through a large integrated health system serving southeastern Michigan. This health system includes a 900-member multispecialty salaried medical group that delivers care in Detroit and surrounding communities. We identified a retrospective cohort of patients from multiple sites who were managed by the medical group and had insurance coverage through an affiliated health maintenance organization. All patients had prescription coverage, with tiered copayments based on the covering entity’s formulary. We followed cohort members from baseline (January 1, 1997, to December 31, 1998) until the first of either death, health plan disenrollment, or the end of the study period (ie, December 31, 2007). The Institutional Review Board of the Henry Ford Health System approved the study as described.
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
We used the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set (HEDIS) criteria to identify patients diagnosed with diabetes in the baseline period.29 The patient had to meet at least 1 of the following 3 diagnostic definitions for diabetes: (1) >1 hospitalization or >2 outpatient visits with a diagnosis of DM (ICD-9-CM 250.xx); (2) a dispensing for insulin or an oral hypoglycemic medication (therapeutic class codes C4G, C4K, C4L, C4M, and C4N); or (3) a mean glycated hemoglobin (A1C) level >7% or a mean fasting plasma glucose >126 mg/dL on 2 separate occasions with a mean A1C >6.5%. Patients had to be 18 years or older at baseline and be continuously enrolled in the health plan, with pharmacy benefit coverage, for the 2-year baseline period.
Information on patient characteristics, including age, sex, marital status, and race, was available from electronic data sources maintained by the health system. At the time of this data collection, race was usually based on self-report, but could have been assigned by administrative staff at the time of the initial clinical encounter. Medical claims and encounter data were used to identify and construct the following: clinical characteristics and diagnosis variables, the Deyo adaptation of the Charlson Comorbidity Index,30 and measures reflective of medical care use (ie, frequency of outpatient visits and cardiology visits). Measures of laboratory test receipt and test results were obtained from an automated clinical laboratory system. Prescription drug claims data were used to compile prescription drug use and adherence measures. Medical group and health plan databases were linked using patients’ unique medical record numbers. Use of automated data to identify patients with diabetes has been previously validated.31,32
To examine trends in lipid management, we created indicator variables for LDL-C testing, treatment with a lipidlowering agent (therapeutic class codes D7L, M4E, and M4F), and LDL-C goal attainment during baseline and in each year of follow-up. Patient LDL-C values were based on the average annual value for the 2-year baseline period and for each follow-up year. The clinical laboratory system was also used to derive variables reflective of baseline and annual mean A1C.
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