A report from the Institute of Medicine has found that people who are older and have a high body mass index (BMI) do not need to be physically examined before they are granted a health care appointment.
The report, which is based on data from a national health survey conducted between 2005 and 2016, found that just 7% of the people in the U.S. are physically able to receive an appointment at a physician’s office.
And only 7% have received an appointment for a pre-existing condition, the report said.
The findings suggest that the health care system can help address this lack of access, said the report’s lead author, Dr. David L. Katz, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
But the study also found that the burden of physical examination falls disproportionately on people of color.
“We found that a large proportion of those who are of color were not medically qualified to receive care because they are older, less educated, or because they do not have insurance coverage for these types of procedures,” Katz said.
While the report does not specify how often physicians must undergo an examination, the researchers say it’s important to remember that physical examinations are common procedures, especially for the elderly and people with pre-eclampsia.
“Obtaining an appointment and obtaining the necessary information for the doctor or hospital is a basic step in ensuring a physician is available,” Katz told HuffPost.
“It should be a non-medical procedure.”
The report also found a significant disparity in how many appointments were granted to older people, and that racial disparities in the process are even more pronounced.
The study found that white people were granted twice as many appointments as black people for a diagnosis of pre-emergence diabetes, while Latinos were granted three times as many.
People of color are disproportionately likely to receive medical care at physician offices, as they have a higher likelihood of experiencing chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and certain types of cancer.
But in many states, people of Color are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, according to the report.
In 2017, just 10% of people with Medicare and Medicaid were white, while 25% of those with private insurance were white.
The disparities in health care access are exacerbated for people of Black and Hispanic ethnicity, who are disproportionately denied health care coverage.
“This is the largest racial and ethnic gap in the health-care system in the country, and there are serious barriers to access for people with disabilities, low income, and those living in underserved areas,” said Katz, who is the report co-author.
“A physician who cannot meet the patient’s needs because of physical or mental disabilities or other reasons should not be given access to health care.”
Katz pointed out that it’s critical to consider the importance of physical exams and other procedures in making appointments.
“I do not think the process of seeking an appointment should be viewed as an excuse for the refusal of access to care,” he said.
“But I do believe that this lack is due to a number of systemic barriers to the health and well-being of people of all ages, not only Black and brown people.”
While the results are troubling, Katz noted that the report focuses on a specific type of physician, and the health systems could improve in other ways.
“The report does raise some questions about the availability of health care in certain areas of the country,” he added.
“While these issues are not new, the question of access remains largely unaddressed.
And, we hope that our findings will be useful in understanding the disparities that persist in our country and can be addressed in other parts of the nation.”