Amplifying Black Voices: How Healthcare Providers Can Better Serve the Community
For our Amplifying Black Voices series, we are exploring how bias in healthcare affects the quality of life for Black people living with autoimmune conditions. Science shows that biases and stereotypes lead many doctors to treat Black patients differently. These differences in treatment lead to:1-4
- Delayed or incorrect diagnoses
- Poor pain management
- Higher risk of severe illness compared to white patients with the same conditions
- Worse physical health, with higher rates of conditions like cancer and diabetes
- Mental health effects like depression, low self-esteem, and stress
This is true even when income and education are not a factor.1,2
How doctors and healthcare systems can help
How can doctors and healthcare systems help improve this situation? Research shows that health outcomes improve when:5,6
- Doctors treat the patient as the team leader in their own healthcare. This leads to people following their doctors' instructions more closely, even months later.
- Healthcare workers meet people where they are. This means going to community events and partnering with community leaders to build trust.
- There are more Black and Latinx healthcare providers. This way, patients are more likely to be cared for by people who understand their perspectives. This also cuts down on Black people being treated by doctors who are biased against them.
- Healthcare providers collect data on patient race and outcomes. This makes it possible to spot differences in treatment due to bias. Such data also helps improve the standard of care for all patients.
In our first Amplifying Black Advocate Voices article, advocates shared how healthcare bias has affected them. This time, we asked, "In your opinion, how can healthcare providers serve the Black community better?" Their responses? Start listening and get involved with the community.
As you will see, their suggestions are helpful for doctors treating any patient. However, some changes can make an even bigger difference to people from underrepresented communities.
Improving Black patient outcomes
"I believe that healthcare providers can simply listen. Healthcare providers are taught in school how to listen and be empathetic. Therefore, that should be applied to all races. Until the healthcare community takes the initiative to actively listen to patients, then there will always be a disconnect in how the Black community is served." – Randi, RheumatoidArthritis.net Advocate
"Treating the Black community is unique. Healthcare providers need to look at the whole patient. Environment, background, socioeconomics, etc., play a part in the patient's health. It's not just about what the patient is or isn't doing. They can't take us for face value – ask why they are or aren't doing X, Y, Z. Better understanding and compassion will go a long way in helping providers serve the Black community." – Gabrielle, Lupus.net Advocate
"Healthcare providers should participate in lupus awareness programs in their community to better the lupus community. Nothing shows support for a community than someone who remains engaged in helping patients living with a condition. Doctors should sit and listen instead of staring at the computer during an examination. Doctors should respect the patient by getting to know the patient so the doctor or other healthcare staff don't prejudge a patient. We are all human beings, and we should be treated like human beings." – Christopher, Lupus.net Advocate
"This is an excellent question that I have been asked so many times. I have been going into Black communities for years now. There are so many of us who will not go to a doctor because of mistrust.5 There was an old saying I used to hear back in the day: "If the mountain won't go to Mohammad, then Mohammad needs to go to the mountain." In other words, healthcare providers need to come to other communities. Start interacting with Black people so we know you get it. Come to our community meetings so we can meet you. I honestly wish we had more Black and Brown doctors, but they usually leave the community when they become established.7" – Diane, Psoriatic-Arthritis.com Advocate
"Listen. If your patients say they're sick, something is wrong. Get a detailed family history, including any known diverse ancestry before deciding you know this person you're dealing with. Know that this history may be skewed away from spondyloarthritis risk factors because people of color have been underdiagnosed for generations. In my case, that would mean looking past my "obvious Blackness" and all that that might mean to learn that my estimated admixture is mostly British Isles and Western European. By mostly, I mean about 55 to 60 percent. Understand that rare or unknown aren't the same thing as zero. I don't have any sense of the true prevalence rates in our people. We aren't properly studied, but if it was 1 percent, you'd see that patient several times a year. And that patient deserves proper medical care because she's a human being." – Dawn, AnkylosingSpondylitis.net
"Healthcare providers can better serve the Black community in the following ways: Hiring more doctors of color in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Find effective ways to bridge the gap of mistrust between Blacks and the medical community.8 Include more Blacks in clinical trials. Understand and study the Black patient experience by learning the impacted cultural factors, trauma, and socioeconomic factors. Asking Black patients about their unique challenges: What makes them different from the majority? Representation of Black people in the marketing materials in their offices. Provide pamphlet toolkits that specifically address Black issues or challenges." – Alisha, Psoriatic-Arthritis.com Advocate
How many times were you misdiagnosed before learning you were living with lupus?