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Disparities in Health Care for Minority Populations

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — July 3, 2020 — 3 min read
Everyone hopes that they will receive great health care when they see a doctor. However, minority populations living in the United States face extra challenges when it comes to receiving quality health care. This is especially true for women of color. Why? Unconscious bias, also called implicit bias.

Unconscious Bias in Health Care

What is Unconscious Bias?

If you have unconscious bias, you unintentionally make decisions based on learned stereotypes you have of a minority group. You aren’t purposefully being racist or prejudiced, but your beliefs are usually there because of the way you were raised or because of the society in which you live.

How Does Unconscious Bias Impact the Quality of Health Care?

When a person of color comes into the emergency room with an injury, a doctor with unconscious bias may not take their pain seriously. They may unconsciously believe that certain minority populations will exaggerate their pain levels.

These beliefs may have come from prejudiced medical school textbooks or from biased perspectives in their upbringing. Unconscious bias, while not intentionally hurtful, can be dangerous. If a medical professional doesn’t trust their patient when they say something’s wrong, it can lead to fatal consequences.

Situations like these happen all the time in hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices around the country. People of color are not treated the same as their white peers, causing huge disparities—meaning differences—in the quality of care they receive.

Barriers to Care vs. Disparities in Care

There are some outside factors when it comes to whether someone who is a minority can receive good health care—especially good mental health care. This is called a “barrier” to care. Their environment, their physical location, their culture, and their income can all impact their ability to get care.

However, once they reach the hospital or doctor’s office, minority populations are less likely to receive the same quality of care as their white peers. The poor-quality care they receive is where we see the disparities in care.

Unsettling Statistics About Quality of Care for Minority Populations

Because of unconscious bias, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals may deliver worse care to their patients of color. Here are some of the facts about health care disparities for minorities:
  • Only one in three Black Americans who need mental health care receives it.
  • Black Americans are less likely to get good-quality health care on a consistent basis.
  • Black and Hispanic women are less likely to receive treatment for postpartum depression compared to their white peers.
  • When it comes to mental health services, Black Americans are less likely to get outpatient mental health care that could prevent a mental health crisis that could lead to a hospital visit.

How Can I Lower the Disparities in Care?

There is not a simple solution to this complex problem. Even the steps listed below won’t fix the unintentional prejudices of medical professionals. However, these are a few things that an individual medical professional can do to help their patients of color get better health care:
  1. Learn about unconscious bias. There must be a willingness to acknowledge your own biases and mistakes. If someone calls you out on a biased action or comment, pay attention to what they say.
  2. Get educated about implicit bias. Take free implicit bias training courses.
  3. Encourage your medical institution to include implicit bias training for all staff.
  4. Speak up when you see unconscious racial bias or gender bias occur.
  5. Start talking about racial bias—whether conscious or unconscious. These discussions should become the norm and continue long after training.
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