Black Lives Matter in health care, too

  • Some disturbing studies have revealed minorities have less access to health care, and also are less likely to receive appropriate care for conditions such as heart and kidney disease.

    Some disturbing studies have revealed minorities have less access to health care, and also are less likely to receive appropriate care for conditions such as heart and kidney disease. Stock Photo

 
By Teri Dreher
Posted6/20/2020 7:00 AM

Right now, Americans are engaged in a long-overdue conversation on the subject of racial inequality. While I'll leave the politics to others, as a longtime health care professional, I believe it's time to address the all-too-real racial bias in America's health care system.

Consider these statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services. Compared to non-Hispanic white Americans, Black Americans are:

 

• 60% more likely to have diabetes and 200% more likely to die from it.

• 40% more likely to have high blood pressure and 20% more likely to die from it.

• 50% more likely to have a stroke and 53% more likely to die from one,

• Experiencing 2.3 times the infant mortality rate.

According to Census Bureau projections, the life expectancy for Black Americans is 76.1 years, compared to 79.8 years for white Americans. And of course, Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at disproportionally higher rates than other ethnicities.

Reasons for racial disparity in health care

The reasons behind these disparities have been linked to numerous factors, including genetics, financial pressures, limited access to health care, cultural beliefs and environmental factors.

After all, a Black family's income typically averages about 60% of white families', and only 55% have private health insurance, compared to 75% of white families.

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But this is about more than poor access to health care. Some disturbing studies have revealed Black Americans simply don't receive the same quality of care that white Americans do.

For example, a study by the National Academy of Medicine found that minorities are less likely to receive appropriate cardiac care, kidney dialysis and transplants, or receive the best treatments for stroke, cancer and AIDS. Black Americans with heart disease receive older, cheaper treatments. Black women are less likely to receive radiation therapy following mastectomies -- if they can get one in the first place.

Some experts hypothesize that this may be in part due to subconscious bias on behalf of health care providers. When physicians were given the Implicit Association Test -- an image-based test that measures racial bias -- those who tested as biased were found more likely to prescribe pain medications and aggressive coronary treatments to white patients than Black ones.

This is scary stuff. The health care industry, like our nation at large, has some work to do.

For this reason, the city of Boston recently declared racism a public health crisis. Ohio and Michigan are considering similar actions. My hope is that governments at every level will enact programs to rebalance the scales, from making insurance more accessible … to training health care professionals on these issues … to providing healthy food in urban food deserts.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's the right thing to do.

I may be the professional health care advocate here. However, all of us can advocate for a fairer, more equitable health care system. Health care is a human right. A healthier America benefits everyone.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (SeniorsAlone.org), a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, www.northshorern.com.

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