Addressing racial bias in healthcare

Listen

For many of us in medicine, racism is a deeply personal issue. As a Black healthcare CEO and emergency physician in an underserved rural community, social justice—and especially healthcare justice—is close to my heart. I am a firm believer that we are only as healthy as the most vulnerable among us.

The health disparities that continue to impact our communities show few signs of improving. African American women are two to three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes. And both Black and Hispanic Americans are dying of COVID-19 at far higher rates than the general population.

A lack of cultural competency is one of the primary reasons for these differences in healthcare outcomes. While African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans represent more than 30% of the U.S. population, unfortunately, they account for less than 10% of practicing physicians. That discrepancy often leads to health disparities, which are likely a result of the nuances surrounding minority patients’ history, culture, or experiences.

The tragic story of Susan Moore, MD, an African American physician hospitalized with COVID-19 late last year, drives home the crucial importance of culturally competent care. From her hospital bed, Dr. Moore used social media to document her struggles to obtain remdesivir and pain medication from a medical team that downplayed the severity of her illness. Tragically, several weeks later, she lost her COVID-19 battle. This is just another unfortunate all-too-prevalent example of a medical system that lacks equitable treatment to certain subsets of our population.

As healthcare leaders, how do we solve this? One part of a comprehensive solution is to actively increase diversity at every level of our healthcare infrastructure, including staff, nurses, clinicians, leaders, and academics. Experience suggests that diverse patients experience better outcomes under the care of diverse clinicians. What’s more, these professionals are more likely to practice in underserved communities and pursue research related to health disparities.

Below I outline specific ways that healthcare systems and professionals at all levels can be a positive force toward fostering a more diverse and inclusive medical workforce:

  1. We must actively carve pathways to professional and leadership positions in underrepresented sectors of healthcare. Ideally, this outreach should start in childhood. Healthcare organizations can work with communities to strengthen K-12 STEM education and create health science enrichment programs. Hospitals can fill a crucial need by offering mentoring, shadowing, and part-time job opportunities for high school students.
  2. Recruiting is another opportunity for change. Hospitals can network with local medical schools, colleges, and physician organizations to connect with candidates who understand the community’s history and culture. At a policy level, legislators could offer public funding incentives to hospitals whose workforces reflect their patient population’s diversity.
  3. Finally, health systems can create robust career support programs for minority professionals. Pipeline and mentorship programs are among the most effective ways to track diverse candidates into leadership and academic positions.

Fundamentally, I believe that there can be no social equality without health equity. Change starts with us by creating awareness, acknowledging without blame that health inequities are real, and then committing to action.

As CEO of Vituity, I’m proud to lead an organization that advocates for healthcare justice through example. We’re hosting crucial and at times uncomfortable conversations on healthcare inequities, enforcing culturally competent care standards in our organization, and actively creating pathways for future generations of diverse leaders.

I hope you’ll join us for an in-depth conversation on solving health inequities and inequalities across all levels of our industry. Register now for our February 2 webinar with Becker’s Hospital Review and take that first step toward a more equitable future for all.

About Vituity
For nearly 50 years, Vituity has been a catalyst for positive change in healthcare. As a physician-led and -owned multispecialty partnership, our 5,000 doctors and clinicians care for nearly 8 million patients each year across 450 practice locations and nine acute care specialties. Learn about our innovative solutions to healthcare challenges at vituity.com.

© Copyright ASC COMMUNICATIONS 2021. Interested in LINKING to or REPRINTING this content? View our policies by clicking here.

 

Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars