Racial Disparities in Healthcare

Although we are in 2022, racial disparities in healthcare still exist, and it can have an impact on medical diagnosis for minority groups as well. Racial bias, racial profiling, negligence, and much more can impact minority groups and lead to inferior medical treatment as well as a decrease in trust in healthcare. What can be done to combat this, and why are we still seeing this in the 21st century?

Medical Disparities for Minorities

The United States of America is a very diverse country, but race is a significant factor when it comes to whether a patient receives care, whether they receive high quality care, and what their health outcome is. Research and data show this disparity. For instance, the infant mortality rate for college educated Black women is 11.5 per 1000 live births compared to White women of similar education, which is 4.2 per 1000 live births.

Lack of Resources

Many groups of minorities lack access to insurance, which can limit their access to healthcare. In 2021, nearly a quarter of Hispanics did not have insurance. On the other hand, data saw that 7% of Whites were uninsured, 11% of Blacks were uninsured, and 5% of Asians were uninsured. They may also live in areas where they lack access to healthcare providers.

In addition to that, ethnic minorities may run into language barriers when talking to the doctor, which furthers limits their access to healthcare. Understanding medical terminology is hard for an average English-speaker, so it can be a lot tougher for someone who doesn’t speak English fluently or as their first language. These language barriers can lead to miscommunication and prevent people from visiting their healthcare provider in the future.

Medical Distrust

Unfortunately, there is a history of ethnic minorities being abused by the healthcare system, which has led to distrust of doctors in minority groups. Many minority groups believe they will face discrimination, which increase their medical mistrust. A study by Dr. Amber Barnato found that verbally, doctors gave out the same information to all their patients regardless of race, but their nonverbal communication was closed off and less likely to build rapport when interacting with patients of color. For instance, Dr. Barnato found that physicians were more likely to stand at a white patient’s bedside and touch them sympathetically. On the other hand, physicians were more likely to stand at a distance or hold a binder in front of them if the patient was black, which led patients to perceive them as disengaged or defensive.  This distrust can also lead to misdiagnosis for minorities if they don’t feel comfortable with telling their physicians the full scope of their symptoms.

Why Are Misdiagnosis Common for Minorities

Misdiagnosis happens commonly for minorities. A medical misdiagnosis could happen when a healthcare professional misses a diagnosis, gives an incorrect diagnosis, or delays care for a patient. These misdiagnoses could be a result of racial bias or profiling. A John Hopkins study showed that ER doctors were 20-30% more likely to misdiagnose minorities who had symptoms of a stroke. 

This could happen due to racial bias or profiling, but it can also be a result of education. Many medical books used in education and in medical industries predominately use images of white men as the “universal model” of a human. This would mean that symptoms and diagnostics are usually shown for people with white skin, which could increase the chances of misdiagnosis when physicians are faced with ethnic minorities.

Eliminating Racial Disparities in Healthcare

Eliminating health disparities for ethnic minorities is a tough challenge due to the many layers that affect and ultimately lead to these disparities. Make sure healthcare professionals at your facility are trained to acknowledge different cultural and linguistic needs that a patient might have. Faculty should also be aware of any preconceived perceptions of minority groups that may affect their treatment.

Creating a more diverse healthcare workforce can also help eliminate health disparities for minorities as well. This will help create a more understanding environment and promote equity. Patients can also feel more at ease with physicians with similar backgrounds to them.

Take Action

Racial disparities in healthcare have existed for a long time and continues to be an issue today. As healthcare providers, it’s our duty to provide care to everyone equally despite their race or cultural background. We want everyone to have the best care and ensure that they have all the information needed to make decisions about their health. This requires patients and physicians to have mutual trust and care for each other. Ensuring all faculty have the appropriate training as well as advocating for diversity will help bridge the health disparities that minority groups experience.


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