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Minorities Were Slow to Receive Asthma Inhalers

Study shows how use of new technology may contribute to health-care disparities

FRIDAY, Dec. 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Asthma inhalers were less likely to be prescribed to minority patients and children in the early days of the treatment, a new study has found.

Investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Policy report that in 1989 and 1990, minority patients were less than half as likely to receive steroid inhalers as were non-minority patients. By the mid-1990s, they said, usage among blacks had caught up, but Hispanic patients were still left behind.

Children were also less likely than adults to receive inhalers throughout the period of the study, although there was some increase among the youngest children.

The researchers identified 3,671 physician visits by patients with asthma from 1989 to 1999. They determined whether inhaled steroids were prescribed, and analyzed information on patients' age, race and ethnicity. The report appears in the January issue of Medical Care.

The disparities may have reflected the fact that non-minority patients have greater access to specialists, who are more likely to use new technologies, the study's lead author, Dr. Timothy Ferris, said in a statement. And new medications are costly, which makes them less accessible to the poor and uninsured, who are often minorities, he said.

Also, drug manufacturers may not invest in the clinical trials required to release new drugs to children. "When you put these factors together, it appears that the minority children were the last to benefit from this effective medication," he said.

The researchers cautioned that there is no way to know the correct usage rates among the various groups. Because asthma is more common and often more serious among blacks, inhalers still may be underutilized among this group, the researchers said.

The hospital is doing further studies of the underlying reasons for the disparities.

More information

The National Institutes of Health has more about asthma.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Dec. 23, 2005
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