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Many different subgroups make up the Hispanic population, and they have diverse health needs and barriers to care

Considerable disparities exist between the health of Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in the United States. For example, Hispanics have a higher incidence of illnesses such as diabetes, human immunodeficiency virus infection, and cervical cancer than whites, yet they use fewer health care services. However, it would be a mistake to consider that the health needs and barriers to care are similar for all subgroups of Hispanics, according to Robin M. Weinick, Ph.D., of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

In a recent study, Dr. Weinick and her colleagues found considerable variation in use of health care services among Hispanic subgroups after analyzing data from the 1997 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a nationally representative survey of health care use and expenditures. For example, Mexicans and Cubans are less likely and Puerto Ricans are more likely to have any emergency department (ED) visits than non-Hispanic whites. Mexicans, Central American/Caribbeans, and South Americans are less likely to have received any prescription medications.

Puerto Ricans (68.3 percent) are more likely than Mexican Americans and Central Americans/Caribbeans to have any outpatient care visits and are the most likely (18.1 percent) to have any ED visits. In addition, Puerto Ricans and Cubans (54.8 and 57.5 percent, respectively) are more likely than other groups to have any prescription medications. Puerto Ricans and Mexicans are more likely than Central American/Caribbeans to have any inpatient hospital admissions.

Hispanics with English-only language interviews are more likely than those interviewed partially or wholly in Spanish to have any outpatient care visits (63.2 vs. 52.4 percent), ED visits (13 vs. 8.9 percent), and prescription medications (53.6 vs. 43.4 percent). More recent immigrants are less likely to have any outpatient care or ED visits, whereas all Hispanics born outside the United States are less likely to have any prescription medications.

See "Hispanic healthcare disparities: Challenging the myth of a monolithic Hispanic population," by Dr. Weinick, Elizabeth A. Jacobs, M.D., M.P.P, Lisa Cacari Stone, M.S., M.A., and others, in the April 2004 Medical Care 42(4), pp. 313-320.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 04-R043) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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