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Researchers Find Disparities in Ear Infection Treatment

Poor and minority children who get frequent ear infections are less likely to have the same access to affordable health care as other children, according to a new study.  Ear infections are one of  the most common health problems in children.  Frequent ear infections are defined as three or more a year.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA culled through government records and found that about 4.6 million children suffer from frequent ear infections.  Overall they found 3.7 percent of children could not afford care, 5.6 percent could not afford prescriptions and only 25.8 percent saw a specialist.

When researchers broke the numbers down further, here's what they found:

  • 42.7 percent of black children and 34.5 percent of Hispanic children with frequent ear infections were below the poverty level.  Only 12.4 percent of white children were below the poverty level.
  • 18.2 percent of Hispanic children were uninsured versus 6.5 percent of white children.
  • 29.2 percent of white children had access to specialty care versus 20 percent of African American children and 17.5 percent of Hispanic children.
  • 28.4 percent of African American children and 19.8 percent Hispanic children visited the emergency room at least twice for ear infections in a year.  Only 15.5 percent of white children did.

"Clearly, we found that children of certain ethnicities who suffer from frequent ear infections are more likely to face greater barriers to care, said study co-author Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric otolaryngology at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and an associate professor of surgery at the Geffen School of Medicine, in a news release.  "This information provides an opportunity for improvements in our current health care reform."

The research is published in the November edition of the journal Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

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