Editor's Note: which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Glen Stream, MD, FAAFP, MBI, a family physician practicing in La Quinta, California, who is also past president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. He serves as the president and board chair of Family Medicine for America’s Health. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of or UBM Medica.
In America, there is an incontrovertible truth: the richer you are, the healthier you are likely to be.
Chances are, if you’re poor or a member of certain racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups, you’re much more likely to die younger. You’re also more likely to experience worse health outcomes and suffer more from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and a host of other serious conditions. Poverty and low income are also associated with higher rates of infant mortality and higher death rates for all 14 leading causes of death.
Between the healthiest and the sickest people in the United States, there’s a persistent health equality gap—and the gap is widening.
Health disparities among the poor (14.5% of the U.S. population fell below the poverty line in 2013) or among those who lack decent educational, lifestyle or job opportunities, “serve as a barrier to health equity across a wide range of diseases and health behaviors,” the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) notes.
· The incident rate of cancer among African Americans is 10% higher than among whites.
· African Americans and Latinos are about twice as likely to develop diabetes as white people.
· Among African Americans, the incident rate of asthma is 28% higher than among whites.
· Non-Hispanic blacks are at least 50% more likely to die of heart disease or stroke before age 75 than non-Hispanic whites.
A big part of the problem is the disparity of care, including access to clinics, doctors’ offices and medication, and a shortage of primary care specialists to treat illness and disease.
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Today, 65 million Americans live in a “primary-care desert,” lacking access to the primary care physicians who account for more than half of all visits to doctors. The problem is particularly acute in minority, low-income and rural communities.
A study of U.S. Census and American Medical Association data from 2000 to 2006, found that about 25% of blacks and Hispanics lived in ZIP codes with few or no primary care physicians, compared to 9.6% of Asians and 13.2% of whites.