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Recent Poll Shows Racism in Healthcare is Impacting Care for Black Patients 

20 Jul, 2023 F.J. Thomas

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Sarasota, FL ( – Racial inequities in healthcare, especially for serious illness, have been well documented. Often reasons such as mistrust, health literacy, and even spirituality and religion have been used to explain these differences. 

A study published last year in Critical Care Medicine found that there are substantial differences in care and outcomes for ICU patients of different races. Researchers found that Black patients were less likely to receive much needed timely antibiotics or an early tracheostomy than White patients. Additionally, researchers noted lower quality of dying, less advanced care planning, and higher intensity of interventions at the end of life for Black patients.

Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle recently interviewed Black patients with serious illnesses about their experiences in their care to determine if racism was associated with patient-clinician communication and decision-making. The researchers conducted one-on-one interviews with Black patients with a serious illness that were hospitalized between January 2021 and February 2023 at an urban academic medical center in Washington. Patients were asked about their experiences with racism, how those experiences affected the way they communicated with their providers, and how racism influenced the medical decision making process. 

Initially, the researchers approached 43 patients for the interview. However, 12 patients declined due to no interest or not feeling well. Two patients did not want to discuss racism. Four patients agreed but then later could not be reached. A final total of 25 Black patients agreed to be interviewed about their perspectives on their care. 

The average age of the patients interviewed was 62, and twenty of the patients were male. All of the patients were lower income, with 40 percent having no assets, and 19 patients having an annual income of less than $25,000. The average education years was 13.4 years. The average health Literacy score was 5.8. 

The patients reported high levels of mistrust in providers. Additionally, they reported episodes of discrimination and micro-aggressions experienced in the course of their care. The most common form of racism reported was the silencing of their own knowledge and lived experiences about their bodies and illness by the healthcare workers caring for them. The patients reported that due to these experiences, they felt isolated and devalued, especially in cases where the patients were underinsured or unhoused. The researchers found that these experiences were associated with exacerbation of existing medical mistrust, and poor patient-provider communication.

The quotes the researchers cited from multiple patients are quite heartbreaking and disturbing. For instance, eight participants stated that they felt the overall healthcare system was “money driven and controlled by racists people with agendas.” Additionally, multiple patients cited cases in which their complaints and conditions were dismissed, only to be re-admitted a short time later in critical condition. Another common issue reported was assumption of healthcare works that the patients were not knowledgeable about their health. 

While the researchers concede that the patient sampling was small, the researchers feel that the findings could be an eye-opening tool to manage the distress of racism, and improve communication and health care decisions making for Black patients. 

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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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