Another racial disparity that may be heightened by the pandemic: access to outpatient care
As COVID-19 sent a growing number of sick patients into hospitals, it also kept away many others who were afraid of becoming infected at medical centers. Now researchers are reporting a worrisome pattern: During the first six months of the pandemic, hospitalizations for health problems that could have been avoided fell dramatically among white people in the Los Angeles area — but hardly at all among Black residents.
The disparity is a sign that Black patients may be getting poorer access to outpatient care — the kind that could have helped maintain their health and prevented it from deteriorating so much that they landed in a hospital bed, said Dr. Richard Leuchter, an internal medicine resident at UCLA Health and one of the researchers who led the new study.
“While a decrease in potentially avoidable hospitalizations may be perceived as beneficial on a population level, what these findings show is that any potential benefits from reducing them were not shared equally among racial groups,” Leuchter said.
The findings, published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggest yet another way the pandemic has worsened racial disparities in how healthcare is delivered in the United States.
While there’s been mounting evidence that patients of color have worse health outcomes and receive poorer care relative to their white peers, the pandemic has made the differences impossible to ignore — and often exacerbated them. COVID-19 disproportionately claims the lives of Black and Latino Americans, and it does so at younger ages than for white Americans.