Doctors' Attitudes About Race Can Affect Your Health

Over the years, an abundance of studies have exposed how physicians' own racism plays out in the examination room with African-American patients. And now a new study finds that two-thirds of doctors harbored "unconscious" racial biases toward patients.

Historically, African-Americans have had a rocky relationship with the medical community. Think the Tuskegee experiments, forced sterilizations of Black women and Henrietta Lacks' cervical cells. And while those atrocities may not be happening in 2012, that doesn't mean that racial bias is completely null and void when it comes to the health of Black people.
Over the years there have been an abundance of studies that have exposed how physicians' own racism plays out in the examination room. A recent study adds more fuel to the fire.
According to a press statement, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine analyzed audio recordings of interactions between 40 doctors and 269 patients of lower-income at Baltimore community health centers. The patients were primarily middle-aged women, and 80 percent were African-American. In terms of the doctors, 48 percent were white, 30 percent were Asian and 22 percent were African-American. Also, two-thirds of the doctors were women.
Researchers claim the doctors seemed to have positive attitudes about race, but when it came to how they treated their patients, the results were quite shocking. The Huffington Post wrote:
—Two-thirds of doctors have "unconscious" racial biases toward patients, when those biases were present.
—The doctors who have racial bias were more likely to talk over their Black patients, dominated the conversations about their patients' health, pay very little attention to their patients’ physical and emotional needs, and make patients feel less in control about their own choices in their health.
It’s crucial to point out that the doctor-patient relationship is an extremely important one, especially for African-Americans, who tend to have less access to quality health care. Your relationship with your doctor can contribute to your understanding of what your health issues are, your taking your prescribed medications every day and you feeling empowered to make the choices necessary in order to improve your health.
And while Lisa A. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H, the lead author, hopes that her findings will help bridge the gap between patients and their doctors, she emphasizes that the doctors in her study are not racist and have their patients’ best interest in mind. But John Hoberman, author of the new book Black & Blue: The Origins and Consequences of Medical Racism, completely disagrees with Cooper.
He told Huff Po, "Mainstream American medicine has absorbed traditional racial stereotypes about African Americans and produced misguided interpretations of black children, elderly black people, black athletes, black pain thresholds and other aspects of black minds and bodies."


Do you feel as if your doctor isn't listening or respecting you? Click here to read more about how to become an empowered patient.



BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

(Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Landov)

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.