THURSDAY, Aug. 11, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Parkinson's disease patients who receive care from a neurologist live longer and are less likely to break a hip or need nursing-home placement than those treated by a primary care doctor, according to a new study.
American researchers looked at the medical records of all 138,000 Medicare patients diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2002. Between that time and 2005, 68 percent of the patients were seen by a neurologist.
Over six years, the patients seen by a neurologist were 20 percent less likely to die, 20 percent less likely to be placed in a nursing home, and 14 percent less likely to suffer a broken hip than patients seen by a primary care doctor.
The researchers also found that women were 22 percent less likely than men to see a neurologist and that minorities were 17 percent less likely than whites to see a neurologist.
The study is published online Aug. 10 in the journal Neurology.
"We need to understand how care may affect people's health care outcomes to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson's and also to minimize any avoidable health care costs," study author Dr. Allison Wright Willis, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a journal news release.
Previous research found that the direct one-year per-person cost of a hip fracture is as much as $26,000.
"Of course, the benefit to people with Parkinson's disease and their families of avoiding a hip fracture or delaying the need for nursing home placement is immeasurable," Wright Willis said.
As to the difference in type of care, it could be that complicated cases of Parkinson's occur more often among certain groups, Willis speculated. Also, perhaps women don't ask for specialist care as often as men, she added.
The researchers did not take into account disease severity, which may be a limitation of the study, an accompanying editorial noted.
We Move has more about Parkinson's disease.