The Tacoma area leads the state in hospitalizations for conditions that may be preventable, such as complications from diabetes, a new study says.
The report, released this week by the state's Office of Financial Management, found two neighboring state legislative districts had the highest rates of hospital visits deemed "potentially preventable."
Those are the 29th District, covering much of Tacoma and neighboring cities such as Lakewood and Parkland, and the 27th District in northern Tacoma.
Rates in those districts were even higher than those in rural areas such as eastern Washington, where residents often have to travel longer distances to see doctors.
Joe Campo, a senior research analyst with the Office of Financial Management, said economic barriers, more than geographic ones, may be to blame in the Tacoma area.
"The providers are there," he said. "It's how readily accessibly they are [to] the people who are most in need."
Accessibility refers to more than distance. The ability to take time off work or find childcare can impact a person's decision to get help.
"If you're not insured, if you've got two jobs and a bunch of kids to take care of, people will postpone going to the doctor because they've got other priorities in life," Campo said.
The study tracked hospital stays from 2013 through 2015 for conditions that can be prevented by regular doctor visits, vaccinations or common medicines.
Those include bacterial pneumonia, urinary tract infections, dehydration, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, hypertension, heart failure and complications from diabetes.
Higher rates of smoking, obesity and lack of exercise could also result in more hospitalizations, he said.
The study estimated excess costs for "potentially preventable" hospital visits were around $15 million per year in those two Tacoma-area districts combined.
Campo said the study shows a familiar geographic divide in health outcomes across Washington state.
"It's consistently that southwest Washington in general, and the Tacoma area, and south of Tacoma in particular, wind up having high rates of whatever it is that we're measuring."
A study by the same office last year found the 29th District in and around Tacoma had the second-lowest life expectancy in the state, trailing only the 19th District in the Aberdeen area.
The lowest rates of "potentially preventable" hospital stays were found in the Bellevue area and the relatively affluent neighborhoods of northwest Seattle.