When compared with their white counterparts, older African Americans who suffered heart attacks were less likely to get treated at top-notch hospitals, according to study findings published in the journal Circulation and reported by Reuters Health.

For the study, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles reviewed more than 65,000 heart attack patients’ 2005 Medicare records. Scientists found that black patients were 17 percent more likely than whites to go to a “low-quality” hospital. In addition, black heart attack patients were less likely to choose hospitals that performed angioplasty and bypass surgery—procedures commonly used to clear heart attack–causing artery blockages.

To understand the quality of care different heart-attack victims received, researchers gave each hospital in the study a “quality score” based on the center’s 30-day death rate and whether it met certain standards for treating heart attacks, such as giving patients aspirin and heart drugs called beta-blockers within 24 hours.

Researchers admitted that there weren’t clear-cut reasons as to why black heart patients did not receive high-quality cardiovascular care, especially since, on average, African Americans lived closer to the best hospitals. But after scientists took a closer look at the data, they found that black patients were 13 percent less likely than whites to be admitted to these quality medical facilities.

“I think this really points to location, and what kinds of choices people have in their local health care market,” said Ioana Popescu, MD, a psychiatrist and the lead study researcher.

For the most definitive results, scientists must look into how people choose which hospital to go to, and whether routine access to health care, ambulance use, or patient awareness of heart attack symptoms affect hospital choice, said study authors.

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