June 9th, 2010
10:30 AM ET
By Leslie Wade
African American and Hispanic children may not be receiving the same care and treatment for asthma as Caucasian children, even when they have the same access to care.
A study published in this week's medical journal, Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, examined more than 800,000 children who were covered by the same health insurance system provided by the U.S. military. They found the prevalence and severity of asthma were higher in black and Hispanic children than their white peers.
Researchers suspect that just because patients used the same health plan didn't necessarily mean they were getting the same care. Experts say this may be a result of the differences in the way various ethnic groups utilize the health care system or differences in the treatments received.
"Whether they had the same trust of the system, willingness to access the system, whether the physicians provided the same quality of care, is not clear," says Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, pediatric allergist and immunologist, and adviser for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Researchers found that African Americans and Hispanics were less likely to see specialists, such as a pediatric allergist or pulmonologist, than white children. They say this could be due to a couple of factors, including whether minority families seek referrals, or whether doctors are less likely to offer them to minorities.
Genetics and environment may also play a role, researchers say. Certain ethnic groups may be more predisposed to asthma than others. Doctors know indoor environments and pollutants can worsen asthma symptoms. And because the study had more blacks and Hispanics living in the south than whites – where there tend to be more indoor pollutants – this may explain some of the differences in health outcomes.
Researchers point out that more than health care insurance coverage is needed to provide care for asthmatic children regardless of their race or ethnicity
"This is an important finding because it tells us something we really didn't know before," says Dr. Thomas Croghan of Georgetown University School of Medicine, one of the study authors. Croghan is also a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
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