Objective: To summarize the current literature on racial and gender disparities in critical care and the mechanisms underlying these disparities in the course of acute critical illness.
Data Sources: MEDLINE search on the published literature addressing racial, ethnic, or gender disparities in acute critical illness, such as sepsis, acute lung injury, pneumonia, venous thromboembolism, and cardiac arrest.
Study Selection: Clinical studies that evaluated general critically ill patient populations in the United States as well as specific critical care conditions were reviewed with a focus on studies evaluating factors and contributors to health disparities.
Data Extraction: Study findings are presented according to their association with the prevalence, clinical presentation, management, and outcomes in acute critical illness.
Data Synthesis: This review presents potential contributors for racial and gender disparities related to genetic susceptibility, comorbidities, preventive health services, socioeconomic factors, cultural differences, and access to care. The data are organized along the course of acute critical illness.
Conclusions: The literature to date shows that disparities in critical care are most likely multifactorial involving individual, community, and hospital-level factors at several points in the continuum of acute critical illness. The data presented identify potential targets as interventions to reduce disparities in critical care and future avenues for research.