How Racial Bias Affects Minority Patients

By. Jada Vanderpool

A few years ago I experienced chronic sinusitis all year round. I was hooked to neti pots,
over the counter Sudafed and any random eucalyptus remedies I could find that supposedly helped,
but the pain often progressed to a point that even those things didn’t work and I needed
medical assistance.
But I dreaded this. One, because it meant I’d have to take a sick day and actually spend it at
the doctor’s office. Two, I knew the doctor would give me the same diagnoses with the same
treatment of antibiotics. I had been prescribed penicillin countless times as band-aid remedy, and
no solution or explanation as to why I kept getting sinusitis. After about the fourth time in a year at
the doctor’s office and on antibiotics, I demanded my doctor let me know why my sinusitis kept
returning, and what other solutions were there for lessening my chances of it coming back.
Her response? “You’re probably just stressed trying to adapt to a work environment, so you keep
getting headaches. Take more deep breaths to help manage you stress.”
That was it. And this, would be my last time ever going to that doctor.
But my feeling of being disregarded and dismissed is no single incident.
A variety of studies  in various countries, using various methods found implicit bias, including race
and gender in health care professionals correlated with indicators of health care, and the negative
effects on client interaction. In the U.S. largely, health care providers appeared to have more of a
positive attitude towards white patients than patients of color.
Implicit bias is defined as the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and
decisions in an unconscious manner. So while it may not always lead to negative treatment
outcomes, it does speak to the patient-doctor experience, and the comfortability of the patient.
A study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that physicians give less compassionate nonverbal cues when treating seriously ill black patients compared to their white counterparts. The study, which included actor caregivers and patients found that physicians (the study was largely made up of white physicians) were more likely to stand by the patient’s bedside of white patients as opposed to black patients.
"Poor nonverbal communication — something the physician may not even be aware he or she is doing — could explain why many black patients perceive discrimination in the health care setting,” said Dr. Ann Barnato, M.D., M.P.H who led the study.
So much so, that some patients find health care to be a waste of time. “Minorities in general don’t have a lot of faith that they’re receiving the best care they could,” said Abigail Sewell, a postdoctoral research fellow in the University of Pennsylvania’s Population Studies Center. “Number two, and I think more important, the fact that they think their doctors don’t care means they feel their doctors aren’t taking into consideration their personal lives.”
As a result, many minorities are either suppressing their medical concerns, not receiving the support
needed from health care professionals, and discovering health disparities later.
How can we change the health landscape? By having health providers that understand their patients
more accessible. HUED is a platform that diversifies the patient doctor connection by connecting
patients of color with medical professionals of color that can understand their cultural, physical and
mental needs.
So what does a good patient-doctor experience look like?

It looks like a doctor respecting your time. They’re not late to your appointment, and they’re
not rushing out the door without addressing all of your questions and concerns either. They’re
not leaving you in the dark about what your diagnosis means, or writing up prescriptions without
explaining what it does to your mind and body.


  1. Thank you for writing this article. Excellent points about how to improve the experience and care you receive. However, I am concerned that the last points about appointment time management are being misconstrued. There are many patients who need our help. There are too few providers/doctors to see them. Please know that if we are running late it's more likely that we are taking time with the patient before you, managing back office issues like obtaining labs/radiology reports that are not readily available and most important, trying to concentrate on the issue at hand. We as providers strive to run "on time," but some concerns take longer than others. We want to partner with patients and develop relationships. We want to help find the cure and resolve issues so our patients can be healthy and live a fulfilling life. .....How to we change the landscape: Invest in physician development pathways, develop a relationship, bring questions to the appointment and give us the opportunity to answer, follow the collaborative plan we have created together. Thank you, again. @drkellyomd.

  2. Could you please extend this service to Florida... I'm tired of seeing that a fellow Sickler who passed away because of the lack of treatment!!! We're tired. How is the oldest genetic disease known to man being so disrespected. All we want is the same fair and equal treatments that are extended to the Oncology community. Please, we need answers!!!


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