Skip to main content

A systematic review of the use of health services by immigrants and native populations



Changes in migration patterns that have occurred in recent decades, both quantitative, with an increase in the number of immigrants, and qualitative, due to different causes of migration (work, family reunification, asylum seekers and refugees) require constant u pdating of the analysis of how immigrants access health services. Understanding of the existence of changes in use patterns is necessary to adapt health services to the new socio-demographic reality. The aim of this study is to describe the scientific evidence that assess the differences in the use of health services between immigrant and native populations.


A systematic review of the electronic database MEDLINE (PubMed) was conducted with a search of studies published between June 2013 and February 2016 that addressed the use of health services and compared immigrants with native populations. MeSH terms and key words comprised Health Services Needs and Demands/Accessibility/Disparities/Emigrants and Immigrants/Native/Ethnic Groups. The electronic search was supplemented by a manual search of grey literature. The following information was extracted from each publication: context of the study (place and year), characteristics of the included population (definition of immigrants and their sub-groups), methodological domains (design of the study, source of information, statistical analysis, variables of health care use assessed, measures of need, socio-economic indicators) and main results.


Thirty-six publications were included, 28 from Europe and 8 from other countries. Twenty-four papers analysed the use of primary care, 17 the use of specialist services (including hospitalizations or emergency care), 18 considered several levels of care and 11 assessed mental health services. The characteristics of immigrants included country of origin, legal status, reasons for migration, length of stay, different generations and socio-demographic variables and need. In general, use of health services by the immigrants was less than or equal to the native population, although some differences between immigrants were also identified.


This review has identified that immigrants show a general tendency towards a lower use of health services than native populations and that there are significant differences within immigrant sub-groups in terms of their patterns of utilization. Further studies should include information categorizing and evaluating the diversity within the immigrant population.


The number of international migrants continues to grow each year. According to the United Nations Migration Report, the number of migrants has reached 244 million in 2015 up from 191 million in 2005, representing an increase of 28% over the decade in comparison with an increase of 13% during the period 1990–2000 [1, 2].

Between 2000 and 2015, Europe has absorbed the second largest number of international migrants following Asia [1, 3]. Despite the global economic crisis which started in 2007–2008, Europe and Northern America have recorded an annual growth rate in the international migrant stock of 2% per year [1].

These transformations have both quantitative (i.e. an increasing number of migrants) and qualitative (i.e. evolving reasons for migration) aspects. There is a trend towards permanent migration and reunification of families with immigrant setting in the host country in a more definitive way [4]. And most recently, we have seen an increasing number of asylum seekers and refugees, which is reaching the highest levels seen since World War II [1].

This situation has generated various responses in the host countries, as immigration is acquiring a significant social and political dimension. Immigration is influencing public opinion and triggering a debate, often improperly informed, regarding the pressure on public services—including health services [3]. This has even led to the adoption of new legislation [57] limiting access to health care for migrants, that may pose, as a result, a risk to public health.

The dramatic changes in demographics, socio-economics and politics require an update of the analysis of health service utilization by immigrants in order to properly determine the breadth and scope of the current situation. Consequently, research on migrant access and utilization of health services has proliferated in recent decades [8, 9]. Results from a previous review point to a lower utilization rate of general and specialist medical services by immigrants compared to native-born populations [10]. However, and since patterns of healthcare utilization depend on factors that may have evolved in recent years, such as age, sex, socio-economic level, time of stay in the host country or origin of the immigrants, and the specific features of healthcare services of the host countries, it seems necessary to revisit the state of knowledge on this subject.

The objective of this study is to describe the available scientific evidence that has investigated the differences in healthcare service utilization between immigrant and native populations in the last 3 years (June 2013 through February 2016), and to explore the possible effect on the differential use of variables associated with health needs, socio-economic status or other factors.


A systematic literature review was performed to identity the available empirical evidence comparing immigrant’s healthcare utilization with native populations using a predefined protocol [10]. Inclusion criteria for articles to be considered were original studies with quantitative data that compared the use of healthcare services between native and immigrant populations. Service use was defined as the interaction between health professionals and patients [11]. Only studies with both population groups properly defined, i.e. immigrant and native, were included. For the purposes of this review, we used the European Union definition of immigrant status based on foreign country of birth including up to the second generation [12].

Papers that considered undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers and/or refugees were also included. The indigenous majority population served as the native reference group. No limitation in gender or ethnic characteristics was stipulated.

Articles were excluded if they (1) exclusively evaluated healthcare utilization for children or adolescents younger than 18 years of age, (2) were editorials, letters or reviews and (3) were qualitative studies.

Search strategy and study selection

Two strategies were utilized in the search for relevant articles on this review.

Firstly, in February 2016, a librarian conducted a systematic review of the electronic database MEDLINE (PubMed) in search of the literature published between June 2013 and February 2016. No language restrictions were applied; no authors were contacted for additional information. MeSH terms and key words used, as well as search strategies performed, are shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Search strategy for healthcare service utilization’s comparative studies

The initial screening of the articles was based on abstracts. Two researchers reviewed all abstracts independently. Selection of relevant articles was based on the information obtained from the abstracts and was agreed upon in discussion. If the abstract was not available, the full text was examined. In the case of discrepancies between the two researchers, the original paper was obtained and an agreement was achieved after it was read.

Secondly, a researcher (AIHG) conducted a manual search of grey literature through Google Scholar, including published papers from 2013 through February 2016 taking into account the terms (Health care use; Comparison; Immigrants; Natives) and (Needs, demands and barriers; Coverage; Primary care; Emergency services; Utilization patterns; Native; Foreign; Autochthonous; Immigrant). Both English and Spanish web pages were included in the search results. Appropriateness for inclusion was based on titles; in the event of doubt, abstracts were retrieved. Studies without electronic abstracts were not included.

Subsequently, two researchers examined the full text of all papers that satisfied the inclusion criteria (AIHG, ASS).

Data extraction

The following information were extracted from each publication: context of the study (country and year), characteristics of the included population (definition of native and immigrants groups, sample size for each group), methodological components (design of the study, statistical analysis, source of information), area of healthcare services assessed, confounders affecting healthcare utilization (individual determinants, measures of need, socio-economic indicators, cultural factors), objective of the study and main results.


Characteristics of the studies

Thirty-six papers met the inclusion criteria in this study. The process followed to include those papers is shown in Fig. 1. Table 2 shows the information extracted from the included publications. Of the 36 studies included, 8 were duplicated in both the manual and electronic search [1320], 12 were included after the manual search [2132] and 16 through the electronic search [3348]. Among them, at least 9 partly describe the same dataset [1316, 19, 20, 25, 47, 48]. Nevertheless, as these articles focused on different aspects of healthcare use or outcome measures, all were included in this review.

Fig. 1

Study flowchart for the selection process of the final included studies

Table 2 Descriptive summary of the studies included in the review

Distribution of studies regarding publication year was as follows: 8 studies published in 2013 [17, 2224, 27, 28, 41, 42], 15 in 2014 [1416, 19, 21, 30, 32, 33, 35, 36, 38, 40, 43, 44, 47], 10 in 2015 [13, 18, 25, 26, 29, 31, 34, 45, 46, 48] and 3 in 2016 [20, 37, 39]. The majority of the publications analysed data from European countries (28; 78%), both North and Central (12) (Norway [1315, 19, 20], Denmark [45], Sweden [35], the Netherlands [17, 32, 34, 40] and Austria [41]) and South Europe (15) (France [22, 36], Italy [18, 24, 29, 37, 43], Spain [23, 27, 28, 31, 38, 39, 46] and Portugal [33]) and 1 from the UK [26]. Seven papers (19%) explored this issue in North America (2 from USA [30, 34] and 5 from Canada [16, 21, 25, 47, 48]); and 1 (3%) in Asia (Singapore) [42] (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2

Distribution of studies according to country of destination

Geographical coverage of the studies has some variation: 21 performed at the national level [1315, 17, 1922, 28, 30, 32, 3436, 38, 40, 41, 4548], 10 at a regional level [16, 18, 23, 2527, 29, 31, 37, 44], 3 at a local level [28, 33, 42] and 1 multi-country study [39] with data from a regional level of 1 country and the national level of the other. There were only 4 longitudinal studies (2 prospective [18, 42] and 2 retrospective [27, 43]) and 1 case-control study [35]. Sample sizes ranged from 74 [35] to 7,856,348 [43]. Multivariable regression (Poisson or logistic) was the most frequent analysis. Only 9 studies conducted univariate analysis [29, 32, 33, 35, 38, 43, 48].

Sources of information

Service utilization could be assessed from two perspectives: the physician’s perspective, based on recorded databases and volume of medical services, and the patient’s perspective, based on patient-reported use of services through healthcare surveys [49].

The largest number of papers (18) used information from administrative [1316, 1820, 23, 25, 29, 33, 35, 37, 39, 43] or insurance system databases [32, 34] and specific hospital registries [28] as source of information. Among the 16 papers (44.4%) that analysed healthcare surveys, where people report their individual healthcare use, 14 studies used population-based surveys which were elaborated for other purposes [17, 21, 22, 24, 26, 30, 36, 38, 40, 44, 4648] while 3 of the surveys were specifically designed to explore immigrants healthcare use [31, 41, 42]. Only 2 studies [33, 45] (5.6%) combined health survey and administrative information and 1 study also used a national survey for general practitioners (GPs) [17].


There were diverse definitions of immigrants. Country of birth was the most common criteria used to define immigrants (18), or country of birth of the subject and their parents (10). In addition, name recognition (2) [32, 34], citizenship (3) [18, 24, 28] or a combination of citizenship and country of birth (3) [30, 42, 45] were also used.

The majority of papers classified the immigrant population in sub-groups usually based on country of birth (13). However, some studies considered geographic area of origin (8) or World Bank categories of income level (5). Other less frequent categories considered were legal status (3), reason of migration (1), length of stay in the country (3) and being first of second generation (1). Only 2 studies (5.6%) [18, 22] compared the use of services considering the immigrant populations as a whole, without defining specific sub-groups in those populations.


The outcome “healthcare service utilization” could be organized in seven focus areas: primary care, specialist’s services, hospitalizations, emergency services, mental health, dental care and medication prescription. Some studies reported on more than one outcome. In total, 8 papers analysed the use of primary care (including GP visits, dental care and physiotherapy) [1315, 21, 27, 36, 44, 48], 6 evaluated the use of specialist services (including hospitalizations or emergency care) [23, 28, 30, 33, 35, 42], 5 assessed mental health services [17, 18, 20, 29, 45], 10 evaluated the use of both primary care and specialists [22, 24, 31, 32, 34, 37, 38, 43, 46, 47], 2 evaluated primary care and mental health [19, 40], 4 evaluated both primary care, mental health and hospitalizations [16, 25, 26, 41] and 1 studied pharmaceutical use and prescriptions [39]. In addition, 6 studies also reported medication consumption [20, 31, 32, 37, 42, 43].

The measurement of healthcare utilization was either continuous (number of contacts) or dichotomic (having had any contact). The period of time used to determine utilization ranged from 4 weeks through 1 year.

The more frequent outcome was that immigrants have lower [1720, 22, 25, 27, 28, 30, 33, 35, 40, 43, 44, 48] or similar [13, 21, 34, 36, 41, 42] healthcare utilization. However, studies that included analysis by sub-groups of immigrants identified some differences across groups [1416, 23, 26, 31, 37, 39, 40, 45, 46] as well as with the type of service assessed [14, 24, 29, 31, 32, 38, 40, 46, 47].

The immigrant population showed a similar [23, 24, 29, 31, 32, 34, 3640, 46] or lower [17, 18, 22, 27, 28, 33, 43] use of primary care and specialized care in countries with universal access to health care—even for undocumented migrants [50]. This finding was consistent regardless of the source of information used. In other countries, some differences were identified associated with the source of information: immigrants showed higher use of health services when estimates were based on surveys [26, 41, 45], while their rates were lower [19, 20, 35] or similar [1315] when registries or administrative data were used.


The main result of this review is that migrant populations appear to have a lower use of health services than native populations, with a similar level of use of primary care services. This result appears to be independent from differences in need of access. Nevertheless, the great heterogeneity of the studies included in this review, considering both the sources of information, as well as factors used for controlling health need and to classify immigrants in sub-groups, requires caution when making an overall estimation valid for all immigrants.

Different sources of heterogeneity should be mentioned. First, and probably the factor with the highest relevance, was the definition of immigrant and their characterization. This review has identified several factors that could be involved with differences in healthcare utilization among immigrants: income of the original native countries [1315, 28, 38], the specific reasons motivating migration [15, 16, 19, 25, 26], fluency in the host country language [16, 17, 21, 25, 44, 45, 47] and length of time of stay [13, 15, 1921, 26, 38, 45, 47, 48].

There were also differences in how medical need was determined and how to estimate factors that predispose to healthcare use. The majority of studies assessed health needs from the point of view of self-perceived health, and through commonly used socio-demographic variables, such as education, income or working status, following the model of Aday and Anderson [51, 52]. Multivariable models were adjusted by these variables to eliminate the effect they could have on utilization, but whether they had a differential influence on immigrants or native populations remains inconclusive.

Variables which could have a significant effect on healthcare service use and in particular for mental health care [53], such as health beliefs and cultural concepts on the part of the immigrants, fear of stigmatization, taboos, perceived efficacy of health interventions or use of alternative services, were usually not considered. The effect of these variables is most commonly explored through qualitative techniques, and papers that used those methods were not included in this report.

Variation in countries’ healthcare systems limits direct cross-country comparisons, although immigrants showed similar patterns of utilization in countries with significant differences in their healthcare services. Nevertheless, studies reviewed pay little attention to the structural and organizational dimensions of healthcare systems, other than reporting the specific conditions for accessing health services. One paper explored the influence of attitudes of professionals regarding immigrants [54], 2 studies assessed the reasons for unmet healthcare need [31, 38] while 2 underscored the patient workload of healthcare professionals [22, 23]. In addition, the effect that new legislation enacted in different countries could have had on access to healthcare services by immigrants has not yet been evaluated and published and therefore cannot be assessed in this review.

Attempting to expanding the scope of previous reviews, we tried not to constrain the inclusion criteria regarding areas of healthcare services assessed [10, 55, 56], context of the study (country) [54, 55], or characteristics of immigrants [54, 55].

This work adds also new information regarding the use of mental health services, both in terms of primary [19, 26] and specialized mental services [1618, 20, 25, 29, 41, 45]. Nevertheless, and although immigrants have shown a higher susceptibility to emotional and mental health problems that could be linked to the stressors of adapting to the host country [57], those studies reported similar findings as for other health services: an overall lower use by migrants, also with differences across sub-groups and with an occasional higher use of emergency care.

This review also provides the opportunity to have an insight of the healthcare use of certain vulnerable sub-groups, as the handicapped [13], the elderly [13, 15, 32, 37] or patients with chronic conditions [21, 34, 36], but the pattern of use of those sub-groups is similar to that of the general population, even when immigrants seem to have less health problems than natives [13, 34], or a poorer health status [36]. Immigrants also showed a higher use associated with longer periods of stay in the host countries [15, 21] as well as significant differences of use among migrant sub-groups [32, 37].

The effect of gender differences was assessed most notably in papers evaluating the use of mental health services [16, 19, 20, 25, 41, 45]. Nevertheless, no conclusive evidence could be established: compared to their native counterparts, Straiton et al [19, 20] and Durbin et al [16, 25] found a lower use of mental health services for immigrant women, while Kerkenaar et al [41] and Smith-Nielsen et al. [45] found a higher use.

The possibility to analyse the use of different levels of care may help to determine the existence of gaps in utilization (less use in one area could explain an increased use in another area) or highlight the existence of different referral criteria (primary care specialists) [23]. De Luca et al. found [24] an over-utilization of emergency services associated with an under-utilization of preventive care services among the immigrant population. Tormo et al. [31] and Díaz et al. [14] obtained similar results, although they concluded that the higher use of emergency services did not compensate the lower use of GPs. The identification of differences in pharmaceutical consumption could also lead to identify particular health problems or economic barriers accentuated by the development of restrictive health policies.

Lastly, the large number of European studies, particularly from western and central Europe, has to be highlighted, probably depicting the interest about the migratory pressure these countries have faced in the last years—migration from Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain; from Latin America, North and sub-Saharan Africa; from internal migration flows south-north after the economic crisis; or most recently, the refugee crisis.

Study limitations

The literature search was conducted only in one database (MEDLINE), although the electronic search was manually completed using Google Scholar. There were implied limitations in the manual search, since it was not systematized and was susceptible to errors as it relied on title appropriateness (particularly for articles with ambiguous titles). Furthermore, no backward citation of the papers included in the systematic review was performed. Additionally, the systematic search only identified 50% of the papers accepted for inclusion, which raises some doubts regarding the intrinsic limitations of the system to classify and assign terms to papers that compare the use of healthcare services between native and migrants.

Finally, qualitative papers that explored the use of healthcare services were not included, as it would be difficult to draw comparisons from these studies.


Overall, and regardless of the changes in the immigration process, data here analysed is coincident with results obtained in previous reviews [10, 54, 56], confirming that immigrants show a general tendency to a lower use of health services than native populations. But these data also indicate the existence of differences within the immigrant populations, reinforcing the conclusion that further studies intended to compare the rate of healthcare use between native and immigrant populations should incorporate information that allows for better identification and characterization of the immigrant population. The immigrant population cannot be considered as a uniform whole. Their diversity has to be taking into account when describing and analysing their healthcare utilization. This will also require improvement and standardization of the information collected [55, 58].

In this sense, the limitations of health surveys have to be emphasized. Surveys are not just subjected to memory bias, but they are less suited to be representative of all relevant sub-groups of the immigrant population, as their samples usually do not include enough participants to reflect the wide variability of the diverse immigrant population to estimate their differential use. For instance, only one paper includes immigrants in irregular status [44]. Therefore, the use of data that overcome these limitations has to be encouraged. Further studies should be based on other information, such as registers, administrative or insurance data, or data from non-governmental organizations [59].



Community Mental Health Centers


Emergency department


Emergency primary care


General practitioner


High income country


Low income country


Medium income country


Ontario Health Insurance Plan


Primary health care


ST segment elevation myocardial infarction


  1. 1.

    United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. International Migration Report 2015: Highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/375). 2016. Accessed 22 Jul 2016

  2. 2.

    United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013). International Migration Report 2013. 2013. Accessed: 22 Jul 2016.

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Rechel B, Mladovsky P, Ingleby D, Mackenbach JP, McKee M. Migration and health in an increasingly diverse Europe. Lancet. 2013;381:1235–45.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Hemminki K. Immigrant health, our health. Eur J Public Health. 2014;24:92–5.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Real Decreto-ley 16/2012, de 20 de abril, de medidas urgentes para garantizar la sostenibilidad del Sistema Nacional de Salud y mejorar la calidad y seguridad de sus prestaciones. Madrid: Agencia Estatal Boletín Oficial del Estado (April 20, 2012). Accessed 9 Mar 2016 [Article in Spanish]

  6. 6.

    Immigration Act 2014 c.22. UK Parliament. London: The Stationery Office (May 14, 2014). Accessed 10 Oct 2016.

  7. 7.

    Public Law 111–148. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 111th United States Congress. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office (March 23, 2010). Accessed 10 Oct 2016.

  8. 8.

    Villalonga-Olives E, Kawachi I. The changing health status of economic migrants to the European Union in the aftermath of the economic crisis. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2014;68:801–3.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Ronda-Pérez E, Ortiz-Barreda G, Hernando C, Vives-Cases C, Gil-González D, Casabona G. Características generales de los artículos originales incluidos en las revisiones bibliográficas sobre salud e inmigración en España. Rev Esp Salud Publica. 2014;88:675–85 [Article in Spanish].

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Carmona R, Alcazar-Alcazar R, Sarria-Santamera A, Regidor E. Frecuentación de las consultas de medicina general y especializada por población inmigrante y autóctona: una revisión sistemática. Rev Esp Salud Publica. 2014;88:135–55 [Article in Spanish].

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Béland F. Utilization of health services as events: an exploratory study. Health Serv Res. 1988;23.

  12. 12.

    European Commission. EU Immigration portal. Glossary. 2016. Accessed: 22 Jul 2016.

  13. 13.

    Diaz E, Kumar BN, Engedal K. Immigrant patients with dementia and memory impairment in primary health care in Norway: a national registry study. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2015;39:321–31.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Díaz E, Calderón-Larran A, Prado-Torres A, Poblador-Plou B, Gimeno-Feliú LA. How do immigrants use primary health care services? A register-based study in Norway. Eur J Public Health. 2015;25:72–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Diaz E, Kumar BN. Differential utilization of primary health care services among older immigrants and Norwegians: a register-based comparative study in Norway. BMC Health Serv Res. 2014;14:623.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Durbin A, Lin E, Moineddin R, Steele LS, Glazier RH. Use of mental health care for nonpsychotic conditions by immigrants in different admission classes and by refugees in Ontario, Canada. Open Med. 2014;8:e136–46.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Koopmans GT, Uiters E, Deville W, Foets M. The use of outpatient mental health care services of migrants vis-à-vis Dutch natives: Equal access? Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2013;59:342–50.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Rucci P, Piazza A, Perrone E, Tarricone I, Maisto R, Donegati I, et al. Disparities in mental health care provision to immigrants with severe mental illness in Italy. Epidemiol Psychiatr Sci. 2015;24:341–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Straiton M, Reneflot A, Diaz E. Immigrants’ use of primary health care services for mental health problems. BMC Health Serv Res. 2014;14:341.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Straiton ML, Powel K, Reneflot A, Diaz E. Managing Mental Health Problems Among Immigrant Women Attending Primary Health Care Services. Health Care Women Int. 2016;37:118–39.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Beiser M, Hou F. Chronic health conditions, labour market participation and resource consumption among immigrant and native-born residents of Canada. Int J Public Health. 2014;59:541–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Berchet C. Health care utilisation in France: An analysis of the main drivers of health care use inequalities related to migration. Rev Epidemiol Sante Publique. 2013;61 Suppl 2:S69–79 [Article in French].

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Carmona-Alférez MR. Derivaciones a especialistas en atención primaria según lugar de nacimiento de los pacientes (Doctoral thesis). Facultad de Medicina. Universidad Complutense de Madrid (2013). Accessed 17 Mar 2016. [Article in Spanish]

  24. 24.

    De Luca G, Ponzo M, Rodriguéz Andrés A. Health care utilization by immigrants in Italy. Int J Health Care Finance Econ. 2013;13:1–31.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Durbin A, Moineddin R, Lin E, Steele LS, Glazier R. Mental health service use by recent immigrants from different world regions and by non-immigrants in Ontario, Canada: a cross-sectional study. BMC Health Serv Res. 2015;15:336.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Gazard B, Frissa S, Nellmus L, Hotopf M, Hatch SL. Challenges in researching migration status, health and health service use: an intersectional analysis of a South London community. Ethn Health. 2015;20:564–93.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Gimeno-Feliú LA, Calderón-Larrañaga A, Prados-Torres A, Revilla-López C, Diaz E. Patterns of pharmaceutical use for immigrants to Spain and Norway: a comparative study of prescription databases in two European countries. Int J Equity Health. 2016;15:32.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Ramos JM, Navarrete-Muñoz EM, Pinargote H, Sastre J, Seguí JM, Rugero MJ. Hospital admissions in Alicante (Spain): a comparative analysis of foreign citizens from high-income countries, immigrants from low-income countries, and Spanish citizens. BMC Health Serv Res. 2013;13:510.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Spinogatti F, Civenti G, Conti V, Lora A. Ethnic differences in the utilization of mental health services in Lombardy (Italy): an epidemiological analysis. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2015;50:59–65.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Tarraf W, Vega W, González HM. Emergency Department Services Use among immigrant and non-immigrant Groups in the United States. J Immigr Minor Health. 2014;16:595–606.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Tormo MJ, Salmerón D, Colorado-Yohar S, Ballesta M, Dios S, Martínez-Fernández C, et al. Results of two surveys of immigrants and natives in Southeast Spain: health, use of services, and need for medical assistance. Salud Publica Mex. 2015;57:38–49 [Article in Spanish].

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Verhagen I, Ros WJG, Steunenberg B, Laan W, de Wit NJ. Differences in health care utilisation between elderly from ethnic minorities and ethnic Dutch elderly. Int J Equity Health. 2014;13:125.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Almeida LM, Santos CC, Caldas JP, Ayres-de-Campos D, Sias S. Obstetric care in a migrant population with free access to health care. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2014;126:244–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    De Back TR, Bodewes AJ, Brewster LM, Kunst AE. Cardiovascular Health and Related Health Care Use of Moluccan-Dutch Immigrants. PLoS One. 2015;10(9):e0138644.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Esscher A, Binder-Finnema P, Bødker B, Högberg U, Mulic-Lutvica A, Essén B. Suboptimal care and maternal mortality among foreign-born women in Sweden: maternal death audit with application of the “migration three delays” model. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2014;14:141.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Fosse-Edorh S, Fagot-Campagna A, Detournay D, Bihan H, Gautier A, Dalichampt M, Druet C. Type 2 diabetes prevalence, health status and quality of care among the North African immigrant population living in France. Diabetes Metab. 2014;40:143–50.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Franchi C, Baviera M, Sequi M, Cortesi L, Tettamanti M, Roncaglioni MC, et al. Comparison of Health Care Resource Utilization by Immigrants versus Native Elderly People. J Immigr Minor Health. 2016;18:1–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Garcia-Subirats I, Vargas I, Sanz-Barbero B, Malmusi D, Ronda E, Ballesta M, Vázquez ML. Changes in Access to Health Services of the Immigrant and Native-Born Population in Spain in the Context of Economic Crisis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014;11:10182–201.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Gimeno-Feliú LA, Magallón-Botaya R, Macipe-Costa RM, Luzón-Oliver L, Cañada-Millan JL, Lasheras-Barrio M. Differences in the Use of Primary Care Services Between Spanish National and Immigrant Patients. J Immigr Minor Health. 2013;15:584–90.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Klaufus LH, Fassaert TJ, de Wit MA. Equity of access to mental health care for anxiety and depression among different ethnic groups in four large cities in the Netherlands. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2014;49:1139–49.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Kerkenaar M, Maier M, Kutalek R, Lagro-Janssen ALM, Ristl R, Pichlhöfer O. Depression and anxiety among migrants in Austria: A population based study of prevalence and utilization of health care services. J Affect Disord. 2013;151:220–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Lee CH, Choo H, Tai BC. Immigrant status and disparities in health care delivery in patients with myocardial infarction. Int J Cardiol. 2013;166:696–701.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Marchesini G, Bernardi D, Miccoli R, Rossi E, Vaccaro O, de Rosa M, et al. Under-treatment of migrants with diabetes in a universalistic health care system: The ARNO Observatory. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014;24:393–9.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Pourat N, Wallace SP, Hadler MW, Ponce N. Assessing Health Care Services Used By California’s Undocumented Immigrant Population In 2010. Health Aff. 2014;33:840–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Smith Nielsen S, Koitzsch Jensen N, Kreiner S, Norredam M, Krasnik A. Utilisation of psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice among non-Western labour immigrants, immigrants from refugee-generating countries and ethnic Danes: the role of mental health status. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2015;50:67–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Villarroel N, Artazcoz L. Different Patterns in Healthcare Use among Immigrants in Spain. J Immigr Minor Health. 2015. doi:10.1007/s10903-015-0202-4 [Epub ahead of print].

    Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Wang L. Immigrant health, socioeconomic factors and residential neighbourhood characteristics: A comparison of multiple ethnic groups in Canada. Applied Geography. 2014;50:90–8.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Wang L, Kwak MJ. Immigration, barriers to healthcare and transnational ties: A case study of South Korean immigrants in Toronto, Canada. Soc Sci Med. 2015;133:340–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Da Silva RB, Contandriopoulos AP, Pineault R, Tousignant P. A global approach to evaluation of health services utilization: concepts and measures. Healthc Policy. 2011;6:e106–17.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Cuadra CB. Right of access to health care for undocumented migrants in EU: a comparative study of national policies. Eur J Public Health. 2012;22:267–71.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Andersen and Newman Framework of Health Services Utilization. Accessed 18 Mar 2016.

  52. 52.

    Andersen RM. Revisiting the behavioural model and access to medical care: does it matter? J Health Soc Behav. 1995;36:1–10.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Thomson MS, Chaze F, George U, Guruge S. Improving Immigrant Populations’ Access to Mental Health Services in Canada: A Review of Barriers and Recommendations. J Immigr Minor Health. 2015;17:1895–905.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Llop-Gironés A, Vargas Lorenzo I, Garcia-Subirats I, Aller MB, Vazquez-Navarrete ML. Acceso a los servicios de salud de la población inmigrante en España. Rev Esp Salud Publica. 2014;88:715–34 [Article in Spanish].

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Norredam M, Nielsen SS, Krasnik A. Migrants’ utilization of somatic healthcare services in Europe—a systematic review. Eur J Public Health. 2010;20:555–63.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Uiters E, Devillé W, Foets M, Speeuwenberg P, Groenewegen PP. Differences between immigrant and non-immigrant groups in the use of primary medical care; a systematic review. BMC Health Serv Res. 2009;9:76.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Bhugra D. Migration and mental health. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2004;109:243–58.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Reyes-Uruena JM, Noori T, Pharris A, Jansa JM. New times for migrants’ health in Europe. Rev Esp Sanid Penit. 2014;16:48–58 [Article in Spanish].

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Scholz N. The public health dimension of the European migrant crisis. EPRS-European Parliamentary Research Service: Members’ Research Service; 2016. Accessed: 17 Mar 2016.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


Not applicable.


The study was funded by the Institute of Health Carlos III and REDISSEC Thematic Network.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.

Authors’ contributions

ASS was the principal investigator who contributed to the conception and design of the study; collected, entered, analysed and interpreted the data; led the paper and acted as corresponding author. AIHG collected, entered, analysed and interpreted the data and prepared the manuscript. LAGF contributed to data analysis and interpretation and drafted the manuscript, and RC participated in the conception and design of the study and helped to draft the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

Not applicable.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Antonio Sarría-Santamera.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sarría-Santamera, A., Hijas-Gómez, A.I., Carmona, R. et al. A systematic review of the use of health services by immigrants and native populations. Public Health Rev 37, 28 (2016).

Download citation


  • Access to health care
  • Immigrants and native born