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Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Pain: Causes and Consequences of Unequal Care

  • Karen O. Anderson
    Correspondence
    Address reprint requests to Dr Karen O. Anderson, Department of Symptom Research, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1400 Pressler Street, Unit 1450, Houston, TX 77030.
    Affiliations
    Department of Symptom Research, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas
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  • Carmen R. Green
    Affiliations
    Departments of Anesthesiology and Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan Schools of Medicine and Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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  • Richard Payne
    Affiliations
    Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life, Duke University Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina
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      Abstract

      The purpose of our review is to evaluate critically the recent literature on racial and ethnic disparities in pain and to determine how far we have come toward reducing and eliminating disparities in pain. We examined peer-reviewed research articles published between 1990 and early 2009 that focused on racial and ethnic disparities in pain in the United States. The databases used were PubMed, Medline, Scopus, CINAHL, and PsycInfo. The probable causes of minority group disparities in pain are discussed, along with suggested strategies for eliminating pain-related disparities. This review reveals the persistence of racial and ethnic disparities in acute, chronic, cancer, and palliative pain care across the lifespan and treatment settings, with minorities receiving lesser quality pain care than non-Hispanic whites. Although health and health care disparities attract local, state, and federal attention, disparities in pain care continue to be missing from publicized public health agendas and health care reform plans. Ensuring optimal pain care for all is critically important from a public health and policy perspective. A robust research program on disparities in pain is needed, and the results must be successfully translated into practices and policies specifically designed to reduce and eliminate disparities in care.

      Perspective

      This review evaluates the recent literature on racial and ethnic disparities in pain and pain treatment. Racial and ethnic disparities in acute pain, chronic cancer pain, and palliative pain care continue to persist. Rigorous research is needed to develop interventions, practices, and policies for eliminating disparities in pain.

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