Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic patients are underrepresented on many liver transplant waiting lists, whereas non-Hispanic White patients are often overrepresented, according to data from 109 centers.
While racial disparities “greatly diminished” after placement on a waiting list, which suggests recent progress in the field, pre–wait-listing disparities may be more challenging to overcome, reported lead author Curtis Warren, MPH, CPH, of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and colleagues.
“In 2020, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network implemented a new allocation system for liver transplantation based on concentric circles of geographic proximity rather than somewhat arbitrarily delineated Donor Service Areas (DSAs),” the investigators wrote in Journal of the American College of Surgeons. “Although this was a step toward improving and equalizing access to lifesaving organs for those on the liver transplant wait list, the listing process determining which patients will be considered for transplantation has continued to be a significant hurdle.”
The process is “rife with impediments to equal access to listing,” according to Dr. Warren and colleagues; getting on a waiting list can be affected by factors such as inequitable access to primary care, lack of private health insurance, and subjective selection by transplant centers.
To better characterize these impediments, the investigators gathered center-specific data from theand the U.S. Census Bureau. The final dataset included 30,353 patients from treated at 109 transplant centers, each of which performed more than 250 transplants between January 2013 and December 2018. The investigators compared waiting list data for each center with demographics from its DSA. Primary variables included race/ethnicity, education level, poverty, and insurance coverage.
Multiple logistic regression analysis was used to compare expected waiting list demographics with observed waiting list demographics with the aid of observed/expected ratios for each race/ethnicity. Univariate and multivariate analyses were used to identify significant predictors, including covariates such as age at listing, distance traveled to transplant center, and center type.
On an adjusted basis, the observed/expected ratios showed that non-Hispanic Black patients were underrepresented on waiting lists at 88 out of 109 centers (81%) and Hispanic patients were underrepresented at 68 centers (62%). In contrast, non-Hispanic White patients were overrepresented on waiting lists at 65 centers (58%). Non-Hispanic White patients were underrepresented on waiting lists at 49 centers, or 45%. Minority underrepresentation was further supported by mean MELD (Model for End-Stage Liver Disease) scores, which were significantly higher among non-Hispanic Black patients (20.2) and Hispanic patients (19.4), compared with non-Hispanic White patients (18.7) (P < .0001 for all) at the time of wait-listing.
Based on the multivariate model, underrepresentation among Black patients was most common in areas with a higher proportion of Black individuals in the population, longer travel distances to transplant centers, and a higher rate of private insurance among transplant recipients. For Hispanic patients, rates of private insurance alone predicted underrepresentation.
Once patients were listed, however, these disparities faded. Non-Hispanic Black patients accounted for 9.8% of all transplants across all hospitals, compared with 7.9% of wait-listed individuals (P < .0001). At approximately two out of three hospitals (65%), the transplanted percentage of Black patients exceeded the wait-listed percentage (P = .002).
“Data from this study show that the wait lists at many transplant centers in the United States underrepresent minority populations, compared with what would be expected based on their service areas,” the investigators concluded. “Future work will need to be devoted to increasing awareness of these trends to promote equitable access to listing for liver transplantation.”