Doctors Call for Systemic Reform to Improve Black Health Experience

This article is part of our series looking at how Black Americans navigate the healthcare system. According to our exclusive survey, one in three Black Americans report having experienced racism while seeking medical care. In a roundtable conversation, our Medical Advisory Board called for better representation among providers to help solve this widespread problem.

Key Takeaways

  • Anti-racism and cultural sensitivity training can minimize disrespect and stigmatization in patient-provider interactions.
  • Black patients may feel more trustful of providers who understand their experiences. Improving representation in the profession can bring more comfort to Black patients seeking care.
  • Combatting racism in health care requires sweeping systemic change in health systems and society at large, Verywell experts say.

Plenty of medical research explores inequitable outcomes for Black Americans navigating the health system, but few probe the reasons why those disparities exist and persist.

According to a Verywell survey, one in three Black Americans have experienced racism while navigating the U.S. healthcare system. Racism damages the Black health experience by influencing the entire health journey.

The survey, consisting of 1,000 White respondents and 1,000 Black respondents, asked about how their healthcare experience drives their decisions to switch providers or make health decisions.

To get at the heart of why racism persists in health care and what can be done to alleviate its harms, Verywell gathered a panel of four members of its Medical Advisory Board representing different medical specialties. In a roundtable conversation led by Verywell’s Chief Medical Advisor Jessica Shepherd, MD, the panelists explained how health disparities play out in their work and their visions for a more equitable health system.

Here’s what they had to say.

Separate Fact from Fiction

A key step in reducing health inequities is to tailor patient communication appropriately.

Each health provider and staff member should undergo anti-bias and cultural humility training, said Latesha Elopre, MD, MSPH, assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Patients may experience racism at every step of a medical visit—more than a quarter of Black respondents to the Verywell survey reported experiencing racism while scheduling appointments and checking in.  

“Patients have a reason to not trust healthcare systems, because health care systems have historically been racist and are currently racist,” Elopre said.

When discussing racism broadly, the facts and figures used can skew one’s perception of the reality. For instance, contrary to popular belief, Black Americans go to the

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WHO and partners call for action to better protect health and care workers from COVID-19

The World Health Organization and partners[i] have issued an urgent call for concrete action to better protect health and care workers worldwide from COVID-19 and other health issues. 

The organizations are concerned that large numbers of health and care workers have died from COVID-19, but also that an increasing proportion of the workforce are suffering from burnout, stress, anxiety and fatigue.

In a Joint Statement issued this week, WHO and partners are calling
on all Member State governments and stakeholders to strengthen the monitoring and reporting of COVID-19 infections, ill-health and deaths among health and care workers. They should also include disaggregation by age, gender and occupation as a standard
procedure, to enable decision makers and scientists to identify and implement mitigation measures that will further reduce the risk of infections and ill-health.

The Statement also urges political leaders and policy makers to do all within their power to make regulatory, policy and investment decisions that ensure the protection of health and care workers. It highlights the opportunity to align this with a forthcoming
global health and care worker compact and the International Labour Organization’s call for a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, the partners call upon leaders and policy makers to ensure equitable access to vaccines so that health and care workers are prioritized in the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations. Available data from 119 countries suggest that by September 2021,
2 in 5 health and care workers were fully vaccinated on average, with considerable difference across regions and economic groupings. Less than 1 in 10 have been fully vaccinated in the African region while 22 mostly high-income
countries reported that above 80% of their health and care workers are fully vaccinated. These rates only account for data reported to WHO through the standard mechanisms.

We have a moral obligation to protect all health and care workers, ensure their rights and provide them with decent work in a safe and enabling practice environment. This must include access to vaccines”, said Jim Campbell, Director
of the WHO Health Workforce Department. “Beyond vaccines , economic recovery  and all new investments in emergency preparedness and response must prioritize  the education and employment of health and care workers, linking to the UN  Secretary-General’s
Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection,” he added.

A new WHO working paper estimates
that between 80 000 to 180 000 health

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