As part of Women's Health Month, we're focusing on the inequities women of color face within our healthcare system. Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)People of color face inequalities across the board and research shows especially how dangerous this reality is in healthcare.
Diagnosis and treatment for women and BIPOC have made strides toward equity, but disparities still represent an unfortunate reality in levels of care. Here are just a few of the differences:
- Black people are over three times more likely to die from COVID than white people, and the risk of death within the Latinx population from the virus is nearly twice that of the white population.
- Racism is strongly associated with mental health difficulties, particularly for Asian Americans and Latinx groups in one study, and contributes to poorer general health overall.
- Maternal mortality rates are much higher among BIPOC groups, with Black women bearing a disproportionate share of maternal deaths.
- BIPOC communities are significantly underrepresented in clinical trials, such as those testing new types of vaccines.
- Black children have disproportionately worse asthma outcomes compared to white children, including higher rates of hospitalization and deaths.
- Compared with men, women with heart disease have worse outcomes, and one major study suggests that may be due to physicians being less attentive to risk factors in women, and less willing to listen and communicate with women patients.
These are just a few examples of a widespread and pervasive issue that can have huge implications on quality of life, health outcomes, and longevity.
Why disparities exist
Health inequality is a complex issue, since it operates on multiple levels, from the personal biases of some healthcare professionals to systemic problems in healthcare organizations to cultural and social factors. Here's a quick look at how two of those play a part:1. Implicit bias: According to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University, implicit bias can include unconscious prejudice and stereotypes, and in a healthcare setting, that may lead to beliefs about certain patient groups.
For example, a 2016 survey of medical students found that a substantial number of them believe Black people feel less pain than white people, which may explain why Black Americans tend to be undertreated for pain. This isn't only in the U.S.—there are other examples throughout the world of implicit bias and racism in healthcare systems, particularly with BIPOC.2. Social determinants of health: Outside of the exam room and even a healthcare system itself, disparities can also be traced to barriers like structural racism and economic inequality. These can limit access to resources that boost health, such as public parks, grocery stores, clinics, and affordable housing.
These are called social determinants of health, which the World Health Organization defines as conditions or circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age. These conditions are shaped by political, social, and economic forces and they create considerable disparity in terms of health outcomes.
What can you do?
As a patient, it can seem daunting to try and overcome so much disparity when it seems the system is stacked against you. But there are some ways to make your voice heard and get the care you need.
One step is to become more informed about what type of disparities may be affecting you, as a woman and/or person of color, in terms of screening and treatment.
For example, Black women develop lupus at a younger age and tend to have more life-threatening conditions—one report in Georgia noted that Black women had nearly three times the rate of the disease than white women, with significantly high incidence in their 30s. Making sure to ask for screening before age 40 could catch the disease earlier, when treatment can help manage the condition more effectively.
Another step is to become more informed about how health disparities may be affecting you and your community and to ask health providers how they're addressing issues like implicit bias. Of course, the burden of lifting these disparities shouldn't be on patients, but the willingness to have these conversations may prompt more meaningful care.
Learn more about why diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to the healthcare experience.
For a fresh perspective on the 8 dimensions of health and wellness, download our free eBook.