In Black America Podcast: Dr. Allison Willis on How Race Affects Parkinson’s Treatments

Nov 10, 2014

Credit University of Pennsylvania Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics

On this edition of "In Black America," producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with Dr. Allison Willis, assistant professor of neurology and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania.

In her study Dr. Willis finds that African Americans with Parkinson’s Disease are less likely than whites with the disease to receive deep brain stimulation surgery to reduce tremors.

Parkinson’s Disease affects more than 2 million Americans, and deep brain stimulation surgery has been shown to be effective but involves extensive pre-operative testing and may include costs not covered by many insurance plans, including Medicare.

The study examined the cases of 8,420 patients who received deep brain stimulation surgery. While 5.5 percent of all Parkinson’s Disease patients were African Americans, only 1 percent of the patients who received deep brain stimulation surgery were African Americans.

Dr. Willis says there are widespread disparities among Parkinson’s patients that are restricting equal utilization of evidence-based care, limiting patients’ quality of life and increasing societal and health care costs. Efforts to overcome these disparities, through policy or reimbursement changes, can benefit socio-economically disadvantaged patients with Parkinson’s disease.