- Discrimination in the healthcare industry has long been linked to poorer health outcomes in marginalized groups, especially among Black, Latino, and LGBTQ+ patients.
- A study recently published in JAMA Network Open shows how and in what ways patients are discriminated against in the healthcare industry on a national level. The most common forms of discrimination are race/ethnicity, education or income level, weight, sex, and age.
- Aside from skin color, patients in this study cited their medical history, mental health, and insurance as other methods of discrimination.
Discrimination in the healthcare industry has lasting implications on the health of minority and marginalized communities. For example, with respect to maternal mortality, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reported that “non-Hispanic Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than Non-Hispanic White women.” Among all races, “pregnancy-related mortality is also elevated among Native Americans/Native Alaskans, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and for certain subgroups of Hispanic women including Puerto Ricans in specific regions of the United States.”
In almost all other cases, minorities and people in marginalized groups have significantly higher rates of poor health outcomes. HHS reports that non-White Americans were more likely to struggle with hypertension and other chronic illnesses, higher infant mortality rates, poor access to preventive vaccines, and an overall lower life expectancy.
According to the new study in JAMA Network Open, out of the “2,137 adult respondents who completed the survey … 21.4 percent reported that they had experienced discrimination in the health care system.” Furthermore, in a “multivariable analysis, the odds of experiencing discrimination were higher for respondents who identified as female, and lower for older respondents, respondents earning at least $50,000 in annual household income, and those reporting good or excellent health compared with poor or fair health.”
Patients who reported using Medicaid instead of standard insurance, those who had a history of “prior substance abuse” or “assumed drug-seeking behavior,” and those seeking treatment for mental health all reported facing some form of discrimination in their doctors’ offices. Of those who experienced discrimination, “72.1 percent said they experienced it more than once.”
Aside from overt discrimination, 42 of respondents “reported discrimination felt hassled or discriminated against because of their clinician’s attitude or behavior,” with those responses that were “coded as ‘provider attitude’ reflected comments that described experiences of being treated poorly, disbelieved, or brushed off while seeking care.”
Overall, physicians can reduce bias, whether real or perceived, by researching and understanding how disparities in healthcare affect people of different races and ethnicities and building a strong relationship with their patients. In addition to providing medical advice, physicians can connect patients with healthcare resources in their communities.