The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a long-standing issue with healthcare in this country. According to CDC statistics, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are much more likely to be negatively affected by the COVID-19 virus. Persons of color are 4 to 5 times more likely than white persons to require hospitalization for COVID-19 related complications. Further, in the early days of the virus, 52% of all confirmed cases and 58% of deaths came from disproportionately black U.S. counties. American Medical Association (AMA) President Dr. Patrice Harris, attributed the disparity to three key areas:
Preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. These conditions stem from factors, which disproportionately impact minority communities, such as reduced access to healthcare and lack of management for chronic conditions.
Overrepresentation of communities of color in lower level essential jobs such as transit operators, cashiers, and custodians.
Implicit bias and racial discrimination by healthcare providers resulting in structural inequities and socially-determined health outcomes.
Racial disparity in healthcare is not just COVID-19 related and has been a long-standing issue. For example, a 2015 published study, which resulted from a systematic review of healthcare databases, found that patient-provider interactions, treatment decisions, and patient health outcomes were impacted by the implicit bias of healthcare providers and such bias likely contributed to the medical disparities for people of color. Further, a recent JAMA study, which examined nearly 900,000 Medicare enrollees across the country, found that persons from the same zip code who used emergency medical services (EMS) were transported to different hospital emergency departments presumably based on their race. A sizable proportion of black and Hispanic patients were transported to hospitals different from their white counterparts living in the same area.
While there are no quick solutions for longstanding racial biases in healthcare quality and accessibility, awareness is a solid first step. Bringing such biases to the attention of healthcare institutions and providers is paramount to effectuating change. If you feel you or a family member has suffered harm due to medical treatment that was affected by racial bias or discrimination, consult with a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney to evaluate your concerns and discuss possible next steps.