Study finds disparities for ethnicities in health care

BY SCOTT RAYNOR | JUNE 19, 2009 7:21 AM

Iowa researchers found significant disparities in several aspects of children’s health-care between those who speak primarily Spanish and those who speak English.

The results show a significant differences among white, Latino, and black parents and children in terms of health care, but the most significant difference was between Latino parents who preferred to speak Spanish over English.

But officials at the UI Hospitals and Clinics said they have worked to address the communication barrier between Spanish and English speakers.

For example, the emergency-medicine department has 24-hour access to Spanish interpreters, in addition to a telephone-based translation service, said Azeem Ahmed, a UI clinical associate professor of emergency medicine. Many faculty members speak Spanish, he noted.

And the UI Carver College of Medicine offers an informal Spanish class designed to teach UI medical students basic Spanish.

Children of primarily Spanish-speaking parents were shown to have about the same amount of exercise, proper nutrition, and preventive care as other ethnic groups. But 29 percent of children of primarily Spanish-speaking Latinos were uninsured — compared with 10 percent of those with primarily English-speaking parents.

Primarily Spanish-speaking parents are themselves much less likely to be insured and less likely to be aware of such health programs as Hawk-i, said Peter Damiano, the director of the UI Public Policy Center.

“Overall, it carries on to the health status in children,” he said.

The study authors conducted telephone surveys of roughly 3,600 families with children in Iowa.

They asked about their health-insurance information, health issues in the family, and their knowledge of social health-care programs, among other things.

Survey conductors included a sampling of Latino and black families, additionally asking Latino parents if they preferred to conduct the survey in Spanish.

The study also included surveys from 2005-06. Damiano said he and others at the Public Policy Center are looking to do a follow-up project in 2010.

Though the findings note the subjects’ ethnicities, Damiano urged caution in drawing specific conclusions about the ethnic groups studied.

“You are grouping people together whose experience may be very different, so you also need to be careful in interpretations,” he said.

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