Racism and Discrimination in US Healthcare
By: Kara Feinberg
When you require help in regards to your health, healthcare workers are the people you can supposedly count on to resolve any concerns. So what happens when the people that are supposed to be helping you are denying the help you need? For people of color, this is an unfortunate reality due to the amount of racism and discrimination that is found within United States healthcare system.
Rachel R. Hardeman, Ph.D. explains in her article for the New England Journal of Medicine that “Most physicians are not explicitly racist and are committed to treating all patients equally. However, they operate in an inherently racist system.” While most people who work in healthcare aren’t actively trying to be discriminatory, the healthcare system itself is filled with such beliefs and practices.
In a 2016 study conducted by Kelly M. Hoffman and other psychologists through the University of Virginia, it was found that many white medical students hold the false belief that black people have a higher pain tolerance than white people do. There are countless recounts of people of color having their symptoms trivialized by their healthcare provider due to being a minority; for example, not being given pain meds while giving birth due to a supposed “higher pain tolerance.” Beliefs lead to actions, so stopping these beliefs at the root is the best way to prevent discrimination from occurring. By encouraging medical schools and programs to incorporate lessons on challenging pre-existing beliefs, it can help prevent discrimination within healthcare.
According to Alana Biggers, M.D., “In 2014, around 20% of Black adults could not access health insurance compared to 10% in white and Asian adults. For Latinx adults, this figure was 35%.” By depriving minorities of full access to healthcare, the system is blatantly denying these crucial services to people who need them. Everyone deserves access to healthcare, and people shouldn’t have a lack of access due to their race.
The system itself is filled with people who harbor beliefs that are directly reflected in their work. With the doctors of today and tomorrow holding such beliefs, it’s absolutely crucial that we start making a change. So, how exactly can we start to take action? Making change starts with challenging the system, whether that be through raising awareness on the issue, to encouraging healthcare workers to challenge their beliefs. If you or your family or friends are working in healthcare/are considering it, take time to have conversations with them on this issue.