When we seek medical care, we all hope that we will be given the best possible care, regardless of our individual circumstances. We expect the treatment we receive to be the same as anyone else’s, and we trust that people on our care team will also receive treatment. our team, regardless of any personal thoughts or feelings.

However, history has shown that not everyone gets this type of treatment when it comes to healthcare. In fact, one study found that more than 10 percent of black adults and an even higher percentage of black women and black adults living in low-income households reported unfair discrimination or stigmatization by a healthcare professional.

For millions of blacks and other people of color in the United States, racial bias is a very real experience. This has led to serious imbalances in health care that affect everything from diagnosis rates to treatment options and so on.

Racial bias occurs when attitudes and judgments towards people because of their race affect personal thoughts, decisions and behavior.

Hidden or not, racial bias is evident in almost every area of ​​health care, says Andrea Hayward, director of the Institute for Public Health Workers at Public Health Harmonization Center. “Bias manifests itself in many ways, including cultural and language barriers, and limited or no access to health insurance, health care, or social services due to immigration status,” Hayward tells Healthline.

Racial bias in healthcare also goes far beyond inequalities that are perhaps easier to recognize, such as the lack of multilingual staff in a healthcare facility.

It also shows up as discrepancies in statistics, clinical data, and more. “This is a disproportionate death rate for black women in childbirth, [or the] historical and contemporary evidence of racial bias in the assessment and treatment of pain,” continues Hayward.

Ultimately, racial bias is showing up in every corner of Black and Colored health care throughout the United States.

Implicit offset

Implicit bias is one of the most widely discussed forms of racial bias in healthcare. Implicit racial bias in health care occurs when healthcare professionals make judgments and decisions about an individual’s health care that are fueled by their own unconscious stereotypes and biases.

One recent analysis From the available literature, researchers have found that implicit racial bias on the part of healthcare professionals can lead to changes in both treatment and clinical judgment. For example, the analysis describes how racial bias may actually influence how certain medical interventions, such as pain relief and intrauterine devices (IUDs), are prescribed or recommended.

Bias Algorithm

There is also a lesser known type of bias that can have a very negative impact on health care for people of color: algorithm bias.

Bias Algorithm it is a type of bias that occurs when a health care algorithm, such as one that can be used to assist in making a diagnosis, widens already existing inequalities.

Recent preprint studywhich means it has not been formally peer-reviewed, describes several ways in which racial bias can manifest itself in today’s AI-powered healthcare systems.

For example, the overrepresentation of non-minorities (people who are not members of communities that have typically and historically been marginalized) means that many of the datasets used to help diagnose may be less applicable to minority communities.

And many risk calculators in the past were based on biased statistics, which can greatly affect the accuracy of the information for people of color.

Both implicit and algorithmic biases, as well as other types of healthcare biases, make it nearly impossible for people of color to get the same health and medical outcomes.

Racial bias in health care disproportionately affects black communities. In fact, you only need to look at the recent pandemic to see the impact racial bias is having on black people with COVID-19.

One recent analysis From the COVID-19 statistics in the United States, the researchers found that severe racial and ethnic differences led to higher COVID-19 death rates among black Americans. In fact, the difference is so significant that blacks are more than 3.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.

And these differences in COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths, and even vaccinations are only a small part of the big picture. We also know that:

But it’s not just black communities that have been disproportionately affected by health disparities due to racial bias. “Other people of color experience biases that limit access to quality care and services to address the social determinants of health,” Hayward explains.

Regarding COVID-19, research work published in 2021, for example, showed that Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian communities also have higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 than white Americans.

“It is very important to understand how issues such as disparities in health outcomes, lower quality of life and reduced life expectancy affect BIPOC communities and their overall complexity,” Hayward says.

Hayward explains that many of these problems are deeply rooted in structural, institutional and systemic racism. She emphasizes that it is important not only to understand the root causes of racial bias, but also the extent to which it goes beyond just medical care.

When we realize how widespread racial bias is—not just in health care, but in education, employment, and other areas—we will see that the path to change is not as simple as simply educating our healthcare workers. Instead, Hayward stresses that our approach to change must be multifaceted.

“We need to take a close look at the health system as a whole and consider sustainable system-wide changes such as long-term investment in non-clinical functions, diversity in integrated care teams, and the integration of community health workers into both clinical and community life. settings, she says.

So what does reducing racial prejudice look like in the long run? Well, here are a few key areas that could potentially make the biggest impact right now.

Ensuring that health workers are not only educated but also diverse

Ultimately, reducing racial bias in healthcare begins with creating more equitable care at the source, which can be achieved in part through the education and support of culturally competent healthcare professionals. “A lack of cultural competence and a true understanding of black, indigenous, and people of color affects not only the quality of patient care, but also access to health and social services,” says Hayward.

But it’s not enough to just train a group of healthcare professionals when they also lack diversity — it’s also important to have healthcare professionals from different races and ethnicities.

“We know that teaching cultural competence, racial and implicit bias is essential for healthcare professionals; however, one more step is to ensure representativeness and diversity within care teams,” notes Hayward.

Integrating community health workers into more health areas

“We know that bias manifests itself long before the patient makes an appointment with a doctor or enters the hospital,” Hayward explains.

In fact, she says one of the biggest barriers is the lack of access to healthcare or social services. This is something that especially affects people whose first language is not English, or those who don’t speak English at all.

So how can we combat the racial bias that manifests itself from the moment someone seeks medical help? Well, it can be done through initiatives such as PASO a Center for Public Health program that uses a public health model to help Hispanics and immigrants access health and social services.

And such initiatives are not just recommended, they are necessary,” says Hayward. “Having a trusted member of the community who supports patients not only helps people of color and immigrants to access and navigate health care services, but also allows them to advocate for patients who are not always seen, appreciated or heard,” she explains.

Creating more affordable healthcare services and funding

When it comes to creating sustainable change, it’s not always enough to simply help people access the services that exist now. It is also important that we continue to expand the services available.

Recent Literature Highlighting the inequalities associated with COVID-19 highlights that one of the most important ways to address these inequalities is to start investing in healthcare facilities that serve marginalized and low-income communities.

And expanding access to Medicare and other social health programs can help more people in these communities access the care they need.

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