Study: Minority neighborhoods have less access to doctors

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Block in North Philly
eTombotron via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Urban neighborhoods with high percentages of African-Americans and Hispanics face poorer access to doctors, according to a study led by a Christiana Care Health System physician researcher.

The research was  published in the August issue of the journal Health Affairs.

The study is one of the first  drill down to census tract data to determine  ratios and consider how geography may create barriers to care within city neighborhoods.

“Primary care is the gateway to improved health outcomes and forms the base of efficient health systems,” said Elizabeth J. Brown, the Harrington Clinician Scholar at Christiana Care’s Value Institute and a primary care physician with Christiana Care’s Department of Family and Community Medicine.  “Considering the results of our study, policymakers may consider  how accessible primary care is, even in densely-populated neighborhoods, when assessing ways to improve the health of our communities.”

Whereas most research on doctor-to-population ratios has concentrated on those ratios at the city, county or state level, the study in Health Affairs  analyzed census tracts.

Census tracts are small territorial units that provide valuable information on the characteristics, economic status and living conditions of their inhabitants. When looking at areas around each tract that can be reached by car within five minutes, which is 1.4 miles on average, the study found that some doctor-to-population ratios were far worse than the long-standing federally-determined ratio for a designated physician-shortage areas of one doctor for every 3,500 individuals, a release from Christiana Care noted.

The study also found that city areas with high concentrations of African Americans and Hispanics had far poorer doctor-to-population ratios than neighboring areas with lower concentrations of those racial minorities.

“As groups of people who have traditionally had poor access to health insurance now gain coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace, we should ensure that they also have greater access to care,” Dr. Brown said. “Although primary care access has multiple dimensions, making sure that some populations don’t have to travel far from their neighborhoods to access that care is one important consideration.”

Brown joined Christiana Care in October as a Harrington Clinical Investigator. The Charles J. Harrington Fund is named for its benefactor, the late director emeritus of the Christiana Care Board of Directors and former Christiana Care trustee, who was a strong proponent of service and of the importance of philanthropy.

The Harrington Fund supports community partnerships and scholarship to address the social determinants of health. Dr. Brown’s research includes access to care, education and organization of health care delivery, with areas of focus in child and adolescent health, geriatrics and long-term care and health policy.

Dr. Brown also is a Scholar with Christiana Care’s Value Institute, which leads the way in conducting real-world research on today’s most pressing health care issues. The Value Institute’s mission is to develop, deliver and evaluate innovative practice and policy solutions that improve the experience, efficiency and effectiveness of health care for patients and providers alike.

Other authors in the study include David Grande, an assistant professor of medicine at Perelman School of Medicine and a senior fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics; Daniel Polsky, executive director of the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and the Robert D. Eilers Professor in Health Care Management and Economics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; Corentin M. Barbu, a researcher in the Department of Environment and Agronomy at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Paris; and Jane W. Seymour, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health in Massachusetts.

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