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Black Workers Compensated Less for Back Injuries

Total settlements about half of what whites receive

THURSDAY, Dec. 9, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Black Americans who suffer work-related back injuries receive less compensation for their injuries than white people in similar situations, says a Saint Louis University study in the December issue of Pain.

"The implications of these differences are sobering. Even though patients have equal access to health care through the worker's compensation system, there are substantial differences in the treatment costs that they incur," principal investigator Raymond C. Tait, a professor of psychiatry, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues studied 1,472 lower back injury worker's compensation cases in Missouri. They found that money spent on medical care for blacks was about a third (an average of $4,000 less) of that spent on whites and that total disability settlements for blacks were about half ($3,000 lower) than the amounts given to whites.

The study also found that black workers with lower back injuries were much less likely to be diagnosed with a disc injury and much less likely to have surgery.

Negative stereotypes may be a factor in these disparities, Tait said.

"The diagnosis of lower back pain is a bugaboo in medicine today. It is not an exact science. There is no well-recognized paradigm for diagnosing and treating back pain. Consequently, treatment decisions often are based on clinical judgment," he said.

"Those judgments may be affected by negative stereotypes about chronic back pain, about compensable injuries, and about minorities. While the patterns that we fond are consistent with those described in a 2002 report by the Institute of Medicine that documented racial disparities in health care, the magnitude of the race differences in case management that we found may have been amplified by the combination of negative stereotypes," Tait said.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has advice on how to avoid back injuries at work and home.

SOURCE: Saint Louis University Health Sciences Center, news release, December 2004
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