'Pharmacy deserts' are prevalent in Chicago's predominantly minority communities, raising medication access concerns

Health Aff (Millwood). 2014 Nov;33(11):1958-65. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2013.1397.


Attempts to explain and address disparities in the use of prescription medications have focused almost exclusively on their affordability. However, the segregation of residential neighborhoods by race or ethnicity also may influence access to the pharmacies that, in turn, provide access to prescription medications within a community. We examined whether trends in the availability of pharmacies varied across communities in Chicago with different racial or ethnic compositions. We also examined the geographic accessibility of pharmacies to determine whether "pharmacy deserts," or low-access neighborhoods, were more common in segregated black and Hispanic communities than elsewhere. We found that throughout the period 2000-2012 the number of pharmacies was lower in segregated minority communities than in segregated white communities and integrated communities. In 2012 there were disproportionately more pharmacy deserts in segregated black communities, as well as in low-income communities and federally designated Medically Underserved Areas. Our findings suggest that public policies aimed at improving access to prescription medications may need to address factors beyond insurance coverage and medication affordability. Such policies could include financial incentives to locate pharmacies in pharmacy deserts or the incorporation of pharmacies into community health centers in Medically Underserved Areas.

Keywords: Access To Care; Disparities; Health Reform; Pharmaceuticals.

MeSH terms

  • Chicago
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Medically Underserved Area
  • Minority Groups*
  • Pharmacies / supply & distribution*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Urban Population