Be Proactive About Racial Bias In Healthcare
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
It can be very scary to think that your own doctor may form some opinions about your health based solely on your ethnic background. And sometimes those opinions can be very ridiculous.
Take, for example, state senator and emergency room physician Steve Huffman.
At a recent health committee hearing in Ohio, Huffman asked if “the colored population” is especially being devastated by the coronavirus because “they do not wash their hands as well as other groups.”
"My point is, I understand African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and it makes them more susceptible to death from COVID," he further elaborated.
"But why it doesn't make them more susceptible to just get COVID? Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups or wear a mask or do not socially distance themselves? That could be the explanation of the higher incidence?"
After receiving much backlash, including from other political figures and prominent people in healthcare, Huffman still stood by his comments. Fortunately, he was fired from his job as an emergency room doctor.
And, unfortunately, there are many medical professionals who have a racial bias. For example, a study published back in 2016 found that some medical students’ false beliefs about biological differences between black and white patients may affect how they perceive a patient’s pain.
Some of the medical students actually believed that blacks’ skin is thicker than whites and that black people’s blood coagulates more rapidly than whites. In addition to this, some medical professionals are simply not educated about minority health disparities. All this may cause a lack of trust between the patient and doctor.
Of course, the statements that Huffman made and defended as a practicing emergency doctor is incredibly disturbing and perpetuates a lack of trust in healthcare professionals among minorities. Merely assuming that an entire culture may be predisposed to certain illnesses because they have poor sanitary habits or lack the ability to take direction is improper stereotyping.
There are also stories of neglect when it comes to health care. Take, for example, the story of an African American man named Reginald Relf who had diabetes.
“Long dissatisfied with the doctor treating his diabetes, Reginald Relf decided to fight through whatever was causing his nagging cough. But then his temperature spiked and his breathing became so labored that he reluctantly took his sister’s advice to visit a doctor,” according to one recent report.
“The staff at an urgent care clinic in suburban Chicago sent him home, without testing him for Covid-19 but after advising him to quarantine.”Why was he not tested for COVID-19.
Why he was not tested for COVID-19 or why he did not receive further medical attention is beyond me.
He went home as he was told, and a week later he was found dead. He was just 50-years-old.
“When I finally get him to go to seek help, he’s turned away,” his sister said.
“If he was a middle-aged white woman, would they have turned her away? Those are questions that haunt me.”
The issue of bias, including racial bias in the healthcare field is so rampant that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised healthcare professionals to be on the lookout for it. Basically, if you see something, say something.
How can we be proactive?
I think a large part of this begins with re-educating our healthcare professionals. It’s obviously important for nurses and doctors to have a medical education, but this does not often include an education about how to objectively evaluate a patient's medical condition without making ridiculous and unsupported assumptions based on race. Some people may have such beliefs without even knowing it or knowing why it is wrong, hurtful and even dangerous.
The following article offers some advice to doctors about how to avoid dangerous racial and other assumptions: 10 steps for avoiding health disparities in your practice.
It is also important to fight health disparities and racial bias by speaking up and taking ownership of your own health.If you feel you are a victim of racial bias in the healthcare setting, say something whether it be directly to the doctor or the hospital staff and take the time to locate a doctor who can help you.
Take ownership of your health by eating healthily, being physically active, getting sufficient amount of good quality sleep and getting routine nutrient tests. If the tests reveal you have too much or too little of a certain nutrient, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements if necessary.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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