Background: Latinos will soon be the largest minority group in the United States, but too little is known about major access barriers to health care for this group and whether these barriers result in adverse consequences.
Objective: To identify important access barriers to health care for Latino children, as cited by parents.
Design: Cross-sectional survey of parents of all 203 children coming to the pediatric Latino clinic at an innercity hospital. Questions focused on barriers to health care experienced prior to receiving care at the Latino clinic.
Results: Parental ethnicity included Dominican (36%), Puerto Rican (34%), Central American (13%), and South American (11%). Only 42% of parents were American citizens, whereas 36% had green cards, and 13% had no documentation. Eight percent of parents and 65% of the children were born in the United States. Parents rated their ability to speak English as follows: very well/well, 27%; not very well, 46%; and not at all, 26%. The median annual household income was $11,000; 40% of parents never graduated from high school, and 49% headed single-parent households. Forty-three percent of the children were uninsured. A sick child was routinely brought to hospital clinics by 56% of parents, to the emergency department by 21%, and to neighborhood health centers by 21%. When asked to name the single greatest barrier to health care for their children, parents cited language problems (26%), long waiting time at the physician's office (15%), no medical insurance (13%), and difficulty paying medical bills (7%). When parents were asked if a particular barrier had ever caused them not to bring their children in, transportation was cited by 21%; not being able to afford health care, 18%; excessive waiting time in the clinic, 17%; no health insurance, 16%; and lack of cultural understanding by staff, 11%. Some parents who spoke little or no English reported that medical staff not speaking Spanish had led to adverse health consequences for their children, including poor medical care (8%), misdiagnosis (6%), and prescription of inappropriate medications (5%). Multivariate analyses of selected health outcomes using 7 independent variables showed that low family income was significantly associated with greater odds of a child's having suboptimal health status (odds ratio, 1.5; 95% confidence interval, 1.04-2.2) and an increased number of physician visits in the past year (P<.04), but reduced odds (odds ratio, 0.6; 95% confidence interval, 0.4-0.9) of the child's being brought to the emergency department for a routine sick visit. Children whose parents had resided in the United States for fewer than 8 years were at reduced odds (odds ratio, 0.5; 95% confidence interval, 0.2-0.9) for having spent a day or more in bed for illness in the past year.
Conclusions: Parents identified language problems, cultural differences, poverty, lack of health insurance, transportation difficulties, and long waiting times as the major access barriers to health care for Latino children. Language problems can result in adverse health consequences for some children, including poor medical care, misdiagnosis, and inappropriate medication and hospitalization. Low family income is an important independent risk factor among Latino children for suboptimal health and high utilization of health services.