Association Between Race/Ethnicity and Disparities in Health Care Use Before First-Episode Psychosis Among Privately Insured Young Patients


Racial/ethnic disparities in health care use and clinical outcomes for behavioral health disorders, including psychosis, are well documented, but less is known about these disparities during the period leading up to first-episode psychosis (FEP).


To describe the racial/ethnic disparities in behavioral health care use and prescription drug use of children and young adults before the diagnosis of FEP.

Design, Setting, and Participants

An observational cohort study was conducted using medical and prescription drug claims from January 1, 2007, to September 30, 2015, obtained from Optum’s deidentified Clinformatics Data Mart Database, a commercial claims database augmented with race/ethnicity and socioeconomic variables. Data analysis was performed from February 6, 2018, to October 10, 2020. First-episode psychosis was determined by the presence of psychosis diagnoses on claims for at least 1 hospitalization or 2 outpatient events, with a continuous enrollment requirement of at least 2 years before the first diagnosis. Participants included 3017 Black, Hispanic, or White patients who were continually enrolled in commercial insurance plans and received an FEP diagnosis between the ages of 10 and 21 years.

Main Outcomes and Measures 

Race/ethnicity was determined from a commercial claims database. Rates of inpatient admission, emergency department presentation, and outpatient visits (including psychotherapy), behavioral health disorder diagnoses, and antipsychotic/antidepressant prescription fills were determined for the year before FEP. Race/ethnicity was also obtained from Optum’s claims database. With use of multivariable logistic regression, results were adjusted for covariates including estimated household income, age, sex, and geographic division in the US.


Of the 3017 patients with FEP, 643 Black or Hispanic patients (343 [53.3%] Black, 300 [46.7%] Hispanic, 324 [50.4%] male, mean [SD] age, 17.2 [2.76] years) were less likely than 2374 White patients (1210 [51.0%] male, mean age, 17.0 [2.72] years) to receive comorbid behavioral health disorder diagnoses in the year before the diagnosis of FEP (410 [63.8%] vs 1806 [76.1%], χ2 = 39.3; P < .001). Except for emergency care, behavioral health care use rates were lower in Black and Hispanic patients vs White patients (424 [65.9%] vs 1868 [78.7%]; χ2 = 45.0; P < .001), particularly for outpatient visits with behavioral health care professionals (232 [36.1%] vs 1236 [52.1%]; χ2 = 51.7; P < .001). After adjustment for socioeconomic covariates, behavioral health care use rates (68.9% vs 79.2%; P < .001), outpatient visits with behavioral health professionals (37.7% vs 51.2%; P < .001), and other outcomes remained significantly lower for Black and Hispanic patients vs White patients.

Conclusions and Relevance

The results of this study extend existing research findings of well-known racial/ethnic disparities in the population of patients who are diagnosed with FEP. These differences were apparent in young patients with continuous commercial health insurance and after controlling for household income. Providing equal access to preventive outpatient behavioral health care may increase opportunities for timely detection of psychotic symptoms and early intervention and improve differential outcomes after FEP.

The full study is available in JAMA Network.