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Race disparity between docs and patients tough on underserved

LOS ANGELES, April 2 (AP): Latinos make up a third of California’s population, though only 5 percent of the state's doctors are from a Spanish-speaking country, according to a recent study.

Of the state's 61,861 physicians, 3,282 are Latino. About 18 percent of the state's doctors report speaking fluent Spanish.

The University of California, San Francisco study published last month analyzes data gathered by the California Medical Board on physician work hours, specialties, ethnicity, languages spoken and practice location.

The data was gathered through a one-page questionnaire attached to the state's license renewal form. Doctors were asked to select from 28 ethnicities and 34 possible languages.

The disparity is acute in areas of Southern California, such as Orange County, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, where the population is more than 30 percent Latino, and 5 to 8 percent of doctors are Latino.

The study's author, Dr. Kevin Grumbach, said looking at the racial breakdown is crucial because it relates directly to health care in underserved communities.

``We know from prior research that if you don't have insurance, minority physicians are more likely to take on uninsured patients,'' Grumbach said.

``Latino physicians in particular are more willing to take care of uninsured patients who come to them, and black physicians are more likely to take on Medicaid patients, in comparison to white physicians.''

Grumbach added that the ability of minority physicians to communicate in the native languages of their patients can result in fewer medication mistakes.

Blacks make up 7 percent of the adult population, but only 3 percent of California's physicians are black. About 2,034 black physicians treat patients in California, which has a population of more than 35 million.

There are a total 38,859 white physicians statewide, a grouping that includes doctors of Middle Eastern descent.

The study highlights notable disparities within the ethnic groupings, according to Grumbach.

For example, while more than 25 percent of the state's doctors are categorized as Asian, the state has ``very few physicians of Samoan, Cambodian, and Hmong/Laotian ethnicity, and these ethnic groups should also be recognized as underrepresented in medicine and more actively recruited into the profession.''





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