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Almost Half of U.S. Counties Do Not Have Practicing Cardiologist

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Counties without a cardiologist have higher cardiovascular risk index, higher cardiovascular mortality rates, and shorter life expectancy

By Elana Gotkine HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 8, 2024 (HealthDay News) — Close to half of U.S. counties do not have a practicing cardiologist, according to a research letter published in the July 16 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Jeong Hwan Kim, M.D., from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and colleagues examined differences in characteristics of counties with and without cardiologists across the United States. County-level estimates of practicing cardiologists were determined. For each county, a composite cardiovascular index was constructed by summing five cardiovascular disease risk factors.

The researchers found that 1,454 counties (46.3 percent) of the 3,143 counties analyzed had no cardiologists, while 1,689 had 24 cardiologists each, on average; of 1,105 rural counties, 86.2 percent had no cardiologists. In counties with and without cardiologists, the average round-trip distance to the nearest cardiologist was 16.3 and 87.1 miles, respectively. The cardiovascular risk index was 31 percent higher in counties without versus with cardiologists (2.8 versus 2.1). In addition, there was a greater prevalence of all risk factors, as well as higher age-adjusted cardiovascular mortality rates (281.6 versus 269.1 per 100,000); life expectancy was one year shorter, on average. Counties without cardiologists were more likely to be rural with lower household income, greater uninsurance, worse access to healthy food or primary care physicians, and more hospitalizations that were preventable.

“Although cardiologists are not the only determinants of cardiovascular outcomes, the lack of access to cardiologists in areas with greater disease prevalence and mortality rates in almost one-half of U.S. counties is quite concerning,” the authors write.

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