Doctors Call for Systemic Reform to Improve Black Health Experience

This article is part of our series looking at how Black Americans navigate the healthcare system. According to our exclusive survey, one in three Black Americans report having experienced racism while seeking medical care. In a roundtable conversation, our Medical Advisory Board called for better representation among providers to help solve this widespread problem.

Key Takeaways

  • Anti-racism and cultural sensitivity training can minimize disrespect and stigmatization in patient-provider interactions.
  • Black patients may feel more trustful of providers who understand their experiences. Improving representation in the profession can bring more comfort to Black patients seeking care.
  • Combatting racism in health care requires sweeping systemic change in health systems and society at large, Verywell experts say.

Plenty of medical research explores inequitable outcomes for Black Americans navigating the health system, but few probe the reasons why those disparities exist and persist.

According to a Verywell survey, one in three Black Americans have experienced racism while navigating the U.S. healthcare system. Racism damages the Black health experience by influencing the entire health journey.

The survey, consisting of 1,000 White respondents and 1,000 Black respondents, asked about how their healthcare experience drives their decisions to switch providers or make health decisions.

To get at the heart of why racism persists in health care and what can be done to alleviate its harms, Verywell gathered a panel of four members of its Medical Advisory Board representing different medical specialties. In a roundtable conversation led by Verywell’s Chief Medical Advisor Jessica Shepherd, MD, the panelists explained how health disparities play out in their work and their visions for a more equitable health system.

Here’s what they had to say.

Separate Fact from Fiction

A key step in reducing health inequities is to tailor patient communication appropriately.

Each health provider and staff member should undergo anti-bias and cultural humility training, said Latesha Elopre, MD, MSPH, assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Patients may experience racism at every step of a medical visit—more than a quarter of Black respondents to the Verywell survey reported experiencing racism while scheduling appointments and checking in.  

“Patients have a reason to not trust healthcare systems, because health care systems have historically been racist and are currently racist,” Elopre said.

When discussing racism broadly, the facts and figures used can skew one’s perception of the reality. For instance, contrary to popular belief, Black Americans go to the doctor as often as White Americans. Three-fourths of respondents said they have seen a health provider in the last year and most get a physical every year, according to the Verywell survey.

Shamard Charles, MD, MPH

[Patients] are trusting you to be their encyclopedia. They are trusting you to be better than Google.

— Shamard Charles, MD, MPH

“The reason why some of these myths continue to persist is because on a systemic level, the physicians and the healthcare providers allow it,” said Shamard Charles, MD, MPH, executive director of public health at St. Francis College in New York. Providers

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