Immigrants Who Have Been in the US Longer More Likely to Seek Eye Care

By Rob Goodier

November 09, 2020

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Regardless of their English-language proficiency, immigrants to the U.S. who have been in the country for at least 10 years may be more likely to seek eye care, new findings suggest.

Researchers tested both variables - language proficiency and how long an individual had lived in the U.S. - and found that only the length of stay seemed to predict who had an eye exam in the past year, according to data presented at the virtual annual meeting of the American Public Health Association last week.

"Length of stay is more related to being familiar with the healthcare system, the perception of whether the vision problem exists, and adopting the healthcare beliefs of the U.S.," the study's lead author Rashmi Lamsal, a graduate student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha, told Reuters Health by email.

"The study showed that there exists a greater need to increase the awareness and importance of utilizing preventive eye-care services among the vulnerable immigrant population," Lamsal said.

Analyzing data from 6,981 immigrants in the 2016 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Lamsal and colleagues found those who had been in the country for at least a decade had 46% greater odds of seeking eye care (adjusted odds ratio, 1.46; 95% confidence interval, 1.03 to 2.08).

Language proficiency did not reach statistical significance as a predictor of eye care, the researchers say.

Black, Hispanic and Asian immigrants were more than twice the odds of seeking eye care as did non-Hispanic White immigrants. Immigrants with insurance were also significantly more likely to seek eye care, while those who were employed were less likely to do so.

The study did not investigate causes, but Lamsal speculates that employed immigrants may be less inclined to seek eye care for fear of losing their jobs after a diagnosis of a vision problem.

The idea that an immigrant's length of stay in the U.S. might predict eye care raises interesting questions, said Dr. Lindsay Stark, associate professor of Social Work and Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who was not involved in the study.

"This finding suggests that there is something about length of time in country, such as understanding norms and logistics related to healthcare seeking in the United States or developing trust in the system over time, that influences a decision to seek eye care," she told Reuters Health by email.

"Regardless, the findings suggest barriers exist that prevent immigrants from seeking care early - and English-language proficiency is not one of those barriers," Dr. Stark said.

SOURCE: APHA 2020, October 24-28, 2020.