source: Clinical Thyroidology for the Public
Recent protests over police brutality, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, have brought to attention the systemic racism that pervades all sectors of our society, including the practice of medicine. No exception exists in endocrinology, where racial inequity is found in many areas, most notably in diabetes care and management.
Thyroid surgery is a commonly used treatment for many non-cancerous thyroid conditions such as goiter, thyroid nodules and Graves’ disease. There is already evidence that there are gender, socioeconomic and racial disparities when looking at patients who had thyroid surgery for thyroid cancer or parathyroid disease, with non-white patients having worse outcomes than white patients. In this study, the authors sought to understand whether racial inequalities exist in outcomes after surgery for these conditions.
The Full Article Title:
Maduka RC et al 2020 Racial disparities in surgical outcomes for benign thyroid disease. Am J Surg. Epub 2020 Jul 6. PMID: 32669203.
Summary of the Study:
This study was done by reviewing data collected by the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program. This is a database which collects information specific to outcomes after all types of surgery from multiple participating institutions. The population studied consisted of adults older than 17 years old, who had thyroid surgery for a condition other than cancer in the United States, from 2016 to 2017. Data collected regarding the patients demographics included race (Asian, Black, Hispanic, White and other/unknown), sex, age group, body-mass index, previous neck surgery, and the reason for surgery. Outcomes included neck hematoma, injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve, low blood calcium levels causing symptoms and other general surgery complications.
There were 6187 patients included, the majority of whom were female (81.3%), non-Hispanic white (55%), 40-65 years of age (56.5%) and obese (48%). The majority (92.4%) did not have a previous neck surgery and presented with a goiter (65%). Overall, the rates of complications were low. The most common complication was injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve in 357 patients (5.2%), followed by a low blood calcium which caused severe symptoms in 336 (4.9%), neck hematoma (2%) and other general complications not specific to thyroid surgery in 128 (1.9%).
Black patients had the highest incidence of neck hematoma (3.1% vs 1.3% in white patients, recurrent laryngeal nerve injury ( 8.7% vs 4.3%) and other surgical complications. These differences were statistically significant. Hispanic patients had the most incidence of a low blood calcium which caused severe symptoms, but the difference with other ethnicities was not statistically significant.
What Are the Implications of This Study?
The conclusion of this study is that Blacks who have thyroid surgery for a non-cancerous condition have a higher risk for neck hematoma, recurrent laryngeal nerve injury and other general surgical complications than White patients. In addition, relative to Whites, Asians have a higher risk for recurrent laryngeal nerve injury.
The causes for these disparities are many, and include a more advanced disease at presentation, access to care, surgeon experience, health literacy and patient mistrust of the health care system. However, many studies have shown that differences in management of thyroid diseases may be contributing to these poorer outcomes in multiple ways. While there are limitations, the strength of this study is its large sample of more than 6800 patients. It highlights the work that needs to be done at understanding all causes of disparities and addressing them in order to improve delivery of health care that results in better outcomes for all patients, regardless of their race.