Oct 11, 2022 - Health

Latinos living in "pulmonology deserts" must drive hours for care

Illustration of a stethoscope in the shape of a pair of lungs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Latinos in many communities in the Southwest live in "pulmonology deserts" and have to drive up to 14 hours to access care, a new study found.

The big picture: Hispanics are more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at younger ages than their non-Hispanic peers and to be diagnosed with asthma.

  • Latinos also face disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, long COVID and death, data shows.

Details: Most pulmonology deserts — places so far from a specialist that patients have to drive at least an hour to find care — are in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Kansas, according to a recent study by health care company GoodRx.

What they’re saying: “Given the prevalence of respiratory diseases, including asthma, COPD, and now the rise of long COVID, we found (the results) shocking and a bit alarming,” GoodRx researcher Tori Marsh tells Axios Latino.

  • Another major issue is that Hispanics have higher uninsurance rates, making regular care almost as inaccessible as specialist care, Marsh says.
  • “Language can be an additional barrier,” Marsh adds. “Even if there is a pulmonologist in an area close to native Spanish speakers, that individual may not be able to provide culturally appropriate care.”

Possible solutions include using telehealth and increasing the number of mobile clinics in pulmonology deserts, Marsh says.

  • She adds it’s also key for Latinos to get the flu vaccine and COVID boosters. The latter is free regardless of insurance status and both vaccines are available in local clinics and pharmacies, not just doctors’ offices.

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