The Change Starts with Us
By: Salina Shafi
What are racial disparities?
In the United States of America, people do not have universal healthcare, which makes it difficult for certain individuals to receive adequate health care throughout their lifetime. 8.6% of people or approximately 28 million people were unable to access healthcare during the year of 2020. As the world faces new diseases and illnesses, more people need access to healthcare but are unable to properly get that care. Universal healthcare is a system where everyone in that area has access to healthcare without financial consequences. Some places such as Spain, Switzerland, France, and so many more provide their people with access to healthcare. However, people in the US do not have access to healthcare without financial consequences. Add to that lack of healthcare providers, financial obstacles, language barriers and lack of patient education; the patient is now left distressed before they have even received any care. Moreover, patients of color are met with racial disparities.
Racial disparities are defined as the inequalities that minorities experience through the inadequacies of our societal systems. This is especially highlighted through our healthcare system. Access to healthcare in general has become difficult whether that be due to financial reasons or transportation or thousands of other possibilities, but it has become difficult for many patients to receive treatment without experiencing any sort of discrimination.. They hinder a patient from receiving proper diagnosis and treatment. Many patients have reported feeling uncomfortable going to hospitals because of all of the stereotypes they are met with. (Dr. Tello 2017) This discrimination hinders patients from receiving proper diagnosis and treatment.
How are patients affected by racial disparities?
A study conducted in 2004 compiled data from Asian-Americans and Caucasians, the participants were asked reflection questions based on visits to their physician. On average, Asian-Americans were more likely to report their physicians made little or no attempt to hear their main concerns or understand their lifestyle/culture. This lack of communication can cause the patient to have a lack of trust in their healthcare provider. In the study, Asian-Americans also reported less conversations about mental health than Caucasians. Having conversations about mental health and lifestyle health is all a part of a normal appointment, yet so many Asian-Americans report not having these essential conversations with our medical professionals. (Ngo-Metzger 2004)
A study conducted in 2016 questioned whether there is a presence of racial bias in the education of our healthcare providers. The participants of the study contained medical students and residents, both groups that are in the midst of their medical education/ training. It was found in the study, that about 73% participants had at least one false belief about the physical differences among different races. Medical students are our country’s future doctors, yet they are surrounded by these misconceptions. A common misconception, due to stereotypes, is that Black people supposedly have a higher pain tolerance rate is referenced by stereotypes. There was a reported case in which a Black patient was feeling tremendous amounts of pain. The emergency room withheld treatment to treat this patient’s pain based on assumption. Despite having no history or indications of substance abuse, this patient was denied medical attention. (Hoffman 2016) In the past, research has shown that a Black patient’s pain is often underestimated and results in the patient being undertreated.
A survey done in Colorado during the year of 2013 discovered that 45% of Latinos would rather use home remedies for healing rather than dealing with the financial, physical and mental stress of visiting a healthcare specialist. Home remedies are greatly respected among different cultures and lifestyles, so many patients may feel more comfortable using at-home treatments. As with every form of treatment, it is imperative to realize that there are risks to different types of home remedies. However, healthcare professionals should be aware of home remedies, so that they can better understand their patient and their views towards treatments. The integration of the patient’s lifestyle and the physician's knowledge is imperative to the patient receiving the healthcare that they need.
What needs to be done next?
The change starts with our education. Our medical students and residents need to be taught how to properly treat patients regardless of their ethnicity or race. During their education, they need to be taught about the variation in diagnosing across different ethnicity groups. False biases are dangerous, both to the patient and to the healthcare team. It is imperative that these false biases are eliminated, and the medical personnel are taught the proper and respectful way to provide treatment for everyone and anyone.
Whether it be about one patient or data compiled from multiple patients, it is wrong for people of color, and minority groups to receive biased treatment when we have the technology and knowledge needed to provide all individuals the treatment that they need and deserve. With increased and more diverse treatment options, healthcare can be made to be more inclusive for people from all races and identities across the globe.
Bridges, K. M. (n.d.). Implicit Bias and Racial Disparities in Health Care. American Bar Association. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/the-state-of-healthcare-in-the-united-states/racial-disparities-in-health-care/
Keisler-Starkey, K., & Bunch, L. N. (2021, September 14). Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2020. US Census Bureau. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2021/demo/p60-274.html#:~:text=Highlights,any%20point%20during%20the%20year
Kelly M. Hoffman, Sophie Trawalter, Jordan R. Axt, M. Norman Oliver
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Apr 2016, 113 (16) 4296-4301; DOI:
Ngo-Metzger, Q., Legedza, A. T., & Phillips, R. S. (2004). Asian Americans' reports of their health care experiences. Results of a national survey. Journal of general internal medicine, 19(2), 111–119. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1525-1497.2004.30143.x
Rees, M. (2020, September 16). Racism in healthcare: What you need to know. MedicalNewsToday. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/racism-in-healthcare
Tello, M. (2017, January 16). Racism and discrimination in health care: Providers and patients. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/racism-discrimination-health-care-providers-patients-2017011611015