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J Natl Med Assoc. Sep 2004; 96(9): 1169–1177.
PMCID: PMC2568455

Modifiable determinants of healthcare utilization within the African-American population.


BACKGROUND: Significant health disparities directly affect the African-American population. Most previous studies of disparities in access to and utilization of healthcare have focused on black-white differences rather than focusing on "within-group" analysis of African Americans. OBJECTIVE: To tease out the differential effects of modifiable risk factors (such as health insurance, usual source of care, and poverty) from personal characteristics (age, gender, rural residence) on healthcare utilization within the African-American population. METHODS: Secondary data analysis of 3462 records from African-American respondents to the 1999 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) Household File, a nationally representative survey of the civilian, noninstitutionalized U.S. population in 1999. RESULTS: We found significant variation in the number of office visits, outpatient clinic visits, hospital discharges, days hospitalized, and fills of prescribed medication among 3462 African-American respondents who represent a U.S. population of 36,538,639 persons. Personal nonmodifiable characteristics such as age and gender were significantly related to healthcare utilization. Poverty and rural residence were also significantly correlated, but the strongest modifiable predictors of healthcare utilization for Afrcan-American persons in 1999 were whether or not individuals had health insurance and/or a usual source of care. Emergency department visits were the only form of care that showed remarkably little variation based on these modifiable risk factors. CONCLUSIONS: The three modifiable factors of poverty, uninsurance, and having a primary care medical home have a dramatic effect on patterns of care for African-American patients and could be independently targeted for intervention.

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