Study: Few immigrants go to the doctor

February 22, 2012 by Eric Ferreri

(Medical Xpress) -- New research from Duke University challenges a long-held assumption that immigrants are generally healthy before they move to the United States but become less so while living here.

The research suggests that widely used data from National Institutes of Health surveys paint an incomplete picture of immigrant health because many of the questions on the surveys inquire specifically about health care interactions.

Those questions miss the many who, for a variety of reasons, do not seek health care at all, said Jen'nan Read, a Duke who authored the study along with doctoral candidate Megan Reynolds.

The result: While immigrants may not be visibly ill when they start their lives in the , they may have underlying, chronic maladies like that can go undetected for years because they simply don't know they're sick, Read said.  Over time, immigrants' likelihood of interacting with the healthcare system increases as they become more comfortable with life in their new country and are then more likely to think seriously about their health, Read said.

Read and Reynolds draw their conclusions from a new analysis of the same NIH data, called the National Health Interview Surveys. The new Duke research will appear in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

The findings suggest that that immigrants may live in the U.S. for years before ever seeing a doctor, whether due to a lack of insurance, language difficulties or other barriers. As a result, immigrants don't receive ongoing care for illnesses that can be relatively easy to treat, but can eventually become a drain on the American system when a serious problem - like a heart attack or stroke - does arise.

"It's a big hit," Read said. "They don't have a regular doctor to go to so they'll end up in the emergency room."

Read and Reynolds crunched reams of NIH data derived from surveys of both U.S.-born men and women and Mexican and Middle Eastern immigrants of both genders. The results show that far fewer immigrants see than U.S.-born men and women.

And men are particularly slow to seek doctor's care, the study finds. For example: the data show that 3.6 percent of U.S.-born men surveyed had gone five years without seeing a doctor.  By comparison, 6.3 percent of male Middle-Eastern immigrants had gone five years without seeing a doctor, and more than 16 percent of male Mexican immigrants had done so.

About 16 percent of U.S.-born men reported having no usual place to seek medical care, compared to nearly 24 percent of Middle-Eastern men and more than 46 percent of Mexican men surveyed.

While the lack of insurance matters, there are other factors at work, Read said. Immigrants are generally healthy when they arrive in the United States, and while women are likely to seek medical help for reproductive issues or child care, men are often more interested in finding work and providing for their families than worrying about their own health, Read said.

"The last thing an immigrant is thinking is 'I should go to a doctor,' " Read said.

Explore further: Rutgers study: Third of N.J. immigrant children, many adult newcomers lack health insurance

Related Stories

Mammography use up for US immigrants

September 19, 2011

While mammography rates have improved among foreign-born women residing in the United States, these women are still less likely to have undergone breast cancer screening than native-born U.S. women.

Recommended for you

Exercise and vitamin D better together for heart health

April 27, 2017

Johns Hopkins researchers report that an analysis of survey responses and health records of more than 10,000 American adults for nearly 20 years suggests a "synergistic" link between exercise and good vitamin D levels in ...

'Diet' products can make you fat, study shows

April 25, 2017

High-fat foods are often the primary target when fighting obesity, but sugar-laden "diet" foods could be contributing to unwanted weight gain as well, according to a new study from the University of Georgia.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.