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Disparities Seen in COVID-19–Related Avoidance of Care


Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

In the early weeks and months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were trying to avoid the coronavirus by staying away from emergency rooms and medical offices. But how many people is “many”?


Turns out almost 41% of Americans delayed or avoided some form of medical care because of concerns about COVID-19, according to the results of a survey conducted June 24-30 by commercial survey company Qualtrics.

More specifically, the avoidance looks like this: 31.5% of the 4,975 adult respondents had avoided routine care and 12.0% had avoided urgent or emergency care, Mark E. Czeisler and associates said in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The two categories were not mutually exclusive since respondents could select both routine care and urgent/emergency care.

There were, however, a number of significant disparities hidden among those numbers for the overall population. Blacks and Hispanics, with respective prevalences of 23.3% and 24.6%, were significantly more likely to delay or avoid urgent/emergency care than were Whites (6.7%), said Mr. Czeisler, a graduate student at Monash University, Melbourne, and associates.

Those differences “are especially concerning given increased COVID-19–associated mortality among Black adults and Hispanic adults,” they noted, adding that “age-adjusted COVID-19 hospitalization rates are approximately five times higher among Black persons and four times higher among Hispanic persons than” among Whites.

Other significant disparities in urgent/emergency care avoidance included the following:

  • Unpaid caregivers for adults (29.8%) vs. noncaregivers (5.4%).

  • Adults with two or more underlying conditions (22.7%) vs. those without such conditions (8.2%).

  • Those with a disability (22.8%) vs. those without (8.9%).

  • Those with health insurance (12.4%) vs. those without (7.8%).

The highest prevalence for all types of COVID-19–related delay and avoidance came from the adult caregivers (64.3%), followed by those with a disability (60.3%) and adults aged 18-24 years (57.2%). The lowest prevalence numbers were for adults with health insurance (24.8%) and those who were not caregivers for adults (32.2%), Mr. Czeisler and associates reported.

These reports of delayed and avoided care “might reflect adherence to community mitigation efforts such as stay-at-home orders, temporary closures of health facilities, or additional factors. However, if routine care avoidance were to be sustained, adults could miss opportunities for management of chronic conditions, receipt of routine vaccinations, or early detection of new conditions, which might worsen outcomes,” they wrote.

SOURCE: Czeisler ME et al. MMWR. 2020 Sep 11;69(36):1250-7.

This article originally appeared in Chest Physician.

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