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Racial Differences in US Health Care Continue


Several recent studies show that the government assisted medical care that African Americans receive is not as good as the same type of care that white Americans receive. While researchers try to account for that gap, they keep discovering new inequities. VOA's Carol Pearson has the latest.

After having a heart attack, many patients need an angioplasty to open their blocked arteries. That is a procedure that uses a catheter threaded through the groin into an artery in the heart. The doctor uses a balloon to open the blockage and restore blood flow to the heart muscle. More than two million angioplasties are performed worldwide each year.

A new study, led by Dr. Ioana Popescu and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found a disparity in the treatment that black and white patients get after suffering a heart attack.

"We were able to document significant and persistent differences in treatment after heart attack for black and white patients," says Popescu.

The study shows black patients receiving government assisted care were 30 percent less likely than whites to receive the follow up care they needed, and Dr. Popescu says it has nothing to do with location.

"Black patients were less likely to receive these services regardless of what type of hospital they were treated at,” continued Popescu. “In other words, it is not a matter of where you go in this case, it's a matter of what happens after you get there." Dr. Popescu says nothing in her study explained the difference in care.

But Dr. Kim A. Williams, a cardiologist at the University of Chicago, says it could be due to bias, either on the part of physicians or on the part of black patients.

"There needs to be cultural assimilations on both sides so that physicians who are taking care of minority patients understand where they're coming from and vice versa," explains Dr. Williams.

Another study -- this one conducted last year -- also showed a health care divide between the the kind of government assisted care that black Americans get versus that of white Americans. This study -- also published in the Journal of the American Medical Association -- collected data from more than 400,000 patients suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious illnesses. The results showed that blacks were 14 percent more likely to have these health problems go unmanaged than white patients with the same problems.

Experts hope these studies will increase awareness of these differences. They also hope it will encourage health care programs to work to eliminate these gaps and encourage patients to seek the care they need.

Some video courtesy of the Journal of the American Medical Association

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