Introduction: Over the past decade, the number of refugees arriving in the United States (U.S.) has increased dramatically. Refugees arrive with unmet health needs and may face barriers when seeking care. However, little is known about how refugees perceive and access care when acutely ill. The goal of this study was to understand barriers to access of acute care by newly arrived refugees, and identify potential improvements from refugees and resettlement agencies.
Methods: This was an in-depth, qualitative interview study of refugees and employees from refugee resettlement and post-resettlement agencies in a city in the Northeast U.S. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and coded independently by two investigators. Interviews were conducted until thematic saturation was reached. We analyzed transcripts using a modified grounded theory approach.
Results: Interviews were completed with 16 refugees and 12 employees from refugee resettlement/post-resettlement agencies. Participants reported several barriers to accessing acute care including challenges understanding the U.S. healthcare system, difficulty scheduling timely outpatient acute care visits, significant language barriers in all acute care settings, and confusion over the intricacies of health insurance. The novelty and complexity of the U.S. healthcare system drives refugees to resettlement agencies for assistance. Resettlement agency employees express concern with directing refugees to appropriate levels of care and report challenges obtaining timely access to sick visits. While receiving emergency department (ED) care, refugees experience communication barriers due to limitations in consistent interpretation services.
Conclusion: Refugees face multiple barriers when accessing acute care. Interventions in the ED, outpatient settings, and in resettlement agencies, have the potential to reduce barriers to care. Examples could include interpretation services that allow for clinic phone scheduling and easier access to interpreter services within the ED. Additionally, extending the Refugee Medical Assistance program may limit gaps in insurance coverage and avoid insurance-related barriers to seeking care.