News Center for Advancing Health Services, Policy & Economics Research Chronic Disease Health Equity

Center supports trainee study illuminating underserved patient access to treatment

Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health

Photo credit: Jade Photography

In an ideal world, access to healthcare and health outcomes would be the same for all patients regardless of factors like race, type of insurance coverage, or income.

Janki P. Luther, MD, MPH, resident physician, Washington University in St. Louis Department of Internal Medicine

Prior research has shown that between patients of different racial and economic groups with numerous medical conditions, differences in accessibility and medical outcomes exist. WashU resident physician, Janki Luther, MD, MPH and her research team are working to change that.

Janki Luther

Luther says her team realized there was data health disparities in hospitalized patients with ulcerative colitis (a form of inflammatory bowel disease) and felt it was important to shed light on this issue. Her study, “The Association of Race, Ethnicity, and Insurance Status with Outcomes in Hospitalized Patients with Ulcerative Colitis” is highlighted in a journal of the American Gastroenterological Association.

Luther says one of the most striking findings in the study is that compared to White patients and those with private insurance, patients who are Black or Hispanic, or who have public insurance (such as Medicaid or Medicare) or no insurance, were about half as likely to receive surgery for their ulcerative colitis.

“This work highlights some of the inequities in care that exist in patients with inflammatory bowel disease and emphasizes the importance of recognizing implicit bias when treating patients from different backgrounds,” said Luther. “We hope that this work is a stepping stone for more research to understand why these disparities exist and will guide policy changes that allow for equitable care for all.”

Karen Joynt Maddox, a co-director of the Center for Health Economics & Policy at the Institute for Public Health says that one of the most important roles of the institute is to support trainees like Luther in developing research ideas, particularly in the area of health equity.

“Dr Luther’s work shows that there are significant differences at the national level in treatment for ulcerative colitis associated with race and insurance status,” she said. “This will hopefully lead to additional studies and interventions to address health inequities.” Luther adds that this work would not have been possible without the support of Joynt Maddox, the Center for Health Economics and Policy, and Maddox’s team of research assistants and statisticians. “I was so fortunate to receive mentorship from center experts in public health and health policy, who understood the importance of this research,” said Luther. “I hope to continue engaging with the center on future research projects!”