Unemployed, minority patients face longer wait, travel times for care

Not only do racial minorities and unemployed people face an uphill struggle in terms of health outcomes, they also spend more time traveling to and waiting for medical care, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine.  

Researchers, led by Kristin N. Ray, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, analyzed 2005 to 2013 data from the American Time Use Survey to see how much time Americans reported spending on clinic time, or time spent waiting for or receiving medical care.

Ray and her team found an average of 123 minutes per patient, including 38 minutes of travel time and 86 minutes of clinic time, but the average clinic time for non-Hispanic black patients was 99 minutes, while it was 105 minutes for Hispanic patients. Unemployed patients had an average of 94 minutes, compared to 72 minutes for those with the greatest hourly income,

Researchers also found disparities in travel time, which averaged 45 minutes for both Hispanic and non-Hispanic black patients but 36 minutes for white patients, as well as an average of seven minutes longer for unemployed patients than for those with the highest hourly income. They found no such disparity in face-to-face time with providers, which averaged 20.5 minutes overall, or whether or not the patient lived in a rural area.

"Since we didn't find a difference in face-to-face time with doctors, it's possible that some of the difference could be due to differences in time spent with other healthcare providers--perhaps more time with nutritionists or nurses," Ray told Reuters Health, "but we suspect that much of the difference is due to more time spent completing paperwork, paying bills and waiting for care."

These disparities can hurt population health as well, the authors wrote, as the burden of a longer wait or trip provides no incentives for patients to seek treatment. Moreover, the authors wrote, since low-income patients often seek treatment at community health centers, the numbers suggest such facilities may have a harder time managing appointments.

To learn more:
- read the research letter
- here's the Reuters article