40% of clinic visits related to heart disease: survey
Forty percent of all patient visits to free clinics -- two out of every five -- are for cardiovascular disease, according to clinics surveyed by AmeriCares, the global health and disaster relief organization.
Free clinic officials also reported 50 percent of their patients have high blood pressure -- much higher than national averages for the uninsured. Nationwide, 20 percent of uninsured adults in the United States have hypertension, according to the latest U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. AmeriCares is releasing the findings during American Heart Month to raise awareness about the prevalence of heart disease among free clinic patients.
The online survey was sent to 318 free and charitable clinics that receive donated medicines and supplies from AmeriCares U.S. Medical Assistance Program to better inform its donations of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. More than half of the clinics responded to the survey, representing 18 percent of all free clinics nationwide.
"While it's been well documented that low-income, uninsured Americans are disproportionately affected by chronic disease, the survey results are startling because of the degree of disparity," said AmeriCares Director of U.S. Programs Leslie McGuire. "More research needs to be done to determine why so many free clinic patients have heart disease so that interventions specific to this vulnerable population can be developed."
AmeriCares delivered $26 million worth of donated medicines -- enough to treat more than 2 million low-income Americans -- to free and charitable clinics last year, including medicines to treat hypertension, diabetes, asthma and gastrointestinal problems. This month, in recognition of American Heart Month, AmeriCares is providing $2 million worth of cardiovascular medicines, enough to fill up to 18,000 prescriptions.
"There is a wealth of data on the uninsured in the United States, but there is very little information specific to free clinics and the patients they serve," McGuire said. "As we expand our work in the United States, we are doing more surveys of this kind to guide our aid deliveries."
The survey backs up a previous AmeriCares study that identified caring for patients with heart disease as a major burden for safety net clinics. Clinic directors surveyed in 2011 ranked cardiovascular medicines as among their top needs, second only to diabetes medications. The AmeriCares 2011 survey of free clinics nationwide found more than half were forced to turn away eligible patients due to resource constraints such as limited medical and support staff, expensive lab tests and medications, inadequate facility space and declining financial support.
In addition to supplying donated medicines and medical supplies to health care providers serving the poor and uninsured, AmeriCares has patient assistance programs that provide Americans with free prescription medicines and operates three free clinics in its home state of Connecticut. The organization also provides emergency aid to survivors of tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters in the U.S.