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Parkinson's Disease Health Center

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Parkinson's Patients Do Best if Treated by Neurologist

Study Shows Parkinson's Patients Cared for by Neurologists Are Less Likely to Be Put in Nursing Homes
By Victoria Rodgers
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 10, 2011 -- People with Parkinson's disease may live longer if treated by a neurologist, a new study suggests.

The study also found that Parkinson's patients who see a neurologist are less likely to be placed in a nursing home and less likely to break a hip.

The study is published in Neurology.

"This is a very interesting and unique investigation," Washington University researcher Allison Wright Willis, MD, tells WebMD. "There are ways that we can help improve the lives of people with Parkinson's disease beyond discovering a cure and beyond discovering the cause."

Researchers analyzed the records of nearly 138,000 newly diagnosed Parkinson's disease patients receiving Medicare seen in outpatient clinics during 2002. Between 2002 and 2005, 58% of them were treated by neurologists.

The fact that more than half of Parkinson's patients are already seeing a neurologist for treatment is reassuring to James C. Beck, PhD, director of research programs at the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

"But that still leaves a large number, over 40%, who are not seeing a neurologist for their care," Beck tells WebMD. Beck was not involved in the study.

The study revealed that women are 22% less likely than men to see a neurologist, and minorities are 17% less likely than whites to see a neurologist.

The study does not reach any definite conclusions accounting for these numbers.

"It's hard to know exactly if there is a problem with the finding that women or non-whites are less likely to see a neurologist without really investigating some of the reasons why, on an individual level," Willis says.

Seeking a Specialist's Care

"You can't look at this and say, 'we found the answer -- here is what we need to do differently now,'"says James F. Burke, MD, of the University of Michigan and member of the American Academy of Neurology.

"You can look at this and say this is a suggestive practice pattern and we need to dig into it further and do more research. I think that is very, very hard to take that 20% mortality value at face value at this point."

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