Hispanic Diabetes Patients Receive Less Guideline-Based Care

Heidi Splete

April 23, 2021

Hispanic diabetes patients are significantly less likely than Black or White patients to receive preventive guideline-based care soon after diagnosis, based on data from more than 7,000 individuals.

Racial and ethnic disparities in diabetes care remain a pervasive health problem, and minorities including non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics experience higher rates of complications, including retinopathy and neuropathy, compared with other groups, Felippe Ottoni Marcondes, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues noted in a poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for General Internal Medicine.

Data from previous studies have shown that diabetes patients who receive guideline-directed preventive care soon after diagnosis can reduce their risk of complications, they said.

To identify disparities in the provision of guideline-directed preventive care, the researchers analyzed data from 7,341 individuals who participated in the National Health Interview Survey from 2011 to 2017. They reviewed associations between race/ethnicity and visits to an eye specialist, a foot specialist, and checks of blood pressure and cholesterol in the past year among individuals diagnosed with diabetes within the past 5 years.

Overall, Hispanics had significantly lower rates of insurance coverage (75.9%), compared with non-Hispanic Whites (93.2%) and non-Hispanic Blacks (88.1%; P < .001).

Hispanics also were significantly less likely than Whites to have had a prior year eye exam (odds ratio, 0.80) and blood pressure check (OR, 0.45), after controlling for variables including age, sex, socioeconomic status, health insurance, general health status, U.S. region, marital status, body mass index, and various comorbidities.

Although insurance coverage mediated 42.8% of the total effect of race/ethnicity on annual eye specialist visits for Hispanics as compared with Whites, there was no significant effect for Blacks, compared with Whites.

COVID Concerns Impact Diabetes Disparities

"As the diabetes epidemic continues in the U.S., it is important to bring to the front of the diabetes care conversation racial/ethnic disparities that persisted or have been only partially addressed," Marcondes said in an interview. "It is also important to emphasize that patients with diabetes are at higher risk for COVID-19 hospitalizations, complications, and death, and COVID-19 has disproportionately affected racial/ethnic minorities, so racial/ethnic minorities with diabetes have compounded risk of complications not only from diabetes but also from COVID-19.

"Importantly, our study highlights disparities in health care that are likely the product of systemic inequalities in access to care and insurance coverage at a moment when conversations about the race/racism and their health impact are fresh in the minds of public and health policy officials and the general public," he emphasized.

"Unfortunately, I cannot say that I am surprised by our findings," Marcondes said. "We expected to see some differences in the receipt of care for racial/ethnic minorities compared to white individuals for those recently diagnosed with diabetes, and that is exactly what our findings show."

However, "what was perhaps intriguing is that disparities in the receipt of guideline-directed care were greater for Hispanic compared to White individuals than for Black compared to White individuals," said Marcondes. "The causes of these differences are many. Hispanic individuals are less likely than White and Black persons to have insurance coverage." Other unmeasured factors include language barriers that Hispanic individuals may face, as well as the bias and discrimination experienced by Hispanic and Black individuals alike.

Focus on Equitable Early Intervention

"There is plenty of evidence in the medical literature that Black and Hispanic individuals with diabetes, as well as other minorities, have higher risk of complications of diabetes such as retinopathy, nephropathy, as well as cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol," Marcondes said. "Yet, complications in the time that immediately follows the diagnosis of diabetes are likely to be low."

To reduce the risk of complications in the future, "physicians and health providers need to focus on providing equitable, guideline-directed treatment for their minority patients recently diagnosed with diabetes," Marcondes emphasized. "Intervening early in the disease course will hopefully lead to a decrease in the rate of complications for racial/ethnic minorities. Clinicians, especially primary care physicians and providers, need to be aware that they are often the first encounter of many patients with the health care system. Effective communication and unbiased language on the part of clinicians will lead to stronger patient-physician relationships that foster opportunity to discuss disease prevention.

"Additional research is needed to evaluate the attitudes and biases of primary care providers and access the impact of patient navigation resources when treating minority patients with diabetes," he concluded.

Digging Deeper Into Disparities

"In diabetes, there are known racial and ethnic disparities such that minorities receive suboptimal screening and treatment, and have worse outcomes," said Scott J. Pilla, MD, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, in an interview.


"This study examines disparities in diabetes preventive measures in the U.S. using a national survey (NHIS) over the past decade. They took the important step of stratifying their analyses by health insurance and socioeconomic status which, in addition to race, may have a large impact," said Pilla. However, "One critique of the poster is that it is unclear whether the researchers weighted their analyses to account for the nationally representative sampling of the NHIS survey," he noted.

Pilla said the finding that Hispanic patients had fewer diabetes preventive measures lines up with previous research in this area.

"I was surprised that the disparities did not extend to black patients, who have been found to also receive suboptimal care compared to white patients in other studies," he noted.

The message for clinical practice: "Minorities with diabetes are at a higher risk of adverse diabetes outcomes and may need extra support and resources to achieve their evidence-based diabetes prevention," Pilla said.

"More research is needed to understand the root cause of racial and ethnic disparities in diabetes management to tease apart possible contributors including health insurance coverage, socioeconomic factors, cultural and community factors, and systemic racism. This will help inform targeted approaches to reducing disparities in diabetes care," he emphasized.

The researchers had no relevant financial conflicts to disclose. Pilla had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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