Although research on racial inequities in the healthcare system has increased substantially over the last few decades, a recent article published in JAMA asks, “Is science meeting its obligation to make a socially useful contribution?”

Data show that there is a significant difference in how black patients are treated compared with patients of other races. Black patients in the emergency department, for example, wait on average longer for pain relief from a fracture. They are also less likely to get a flu shot.

“The unfortunate reality is that race continues to adversely affect the health and well-being of millions of individuals,” wrote Richard S. Cooper, MD, of the department of public health sciences at Loyola University Medical School in Maywood, Illinois, and colleagues wrote. “In every measure of access, process, and outcomes, black patients are not treated as well as patients of other races.”

The article outlines thoughts on how clinicians might approach tackling this challenge:

Accessing health care experience data

Clinicians should continue to be equipped with the latest research on patients’ healthcare experiences, particularly those who receive substandard care, so that changes can be made to mitigate those inequities.

Avoid exaggerating race

When developing a scientific report, clinicians should think in terms of social context, such as personal and economic challenges for patients that might result in poor quality of care.

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“Clinicians and researchers need to avoid exaggerating the importance of race and attributing it to the aura of essentialism that makes race seem to be more than a label,” said the authors. “Doing so validates the untruth that should be challenged.”

Being aware of the effects of racism

“Clinicians need to understand and live with an awareness of the destructive effects of racism and actively negotiate the complicated reasoning process required to describe how those social forces have played out in the data being examined,” Dr Cooper and colleagues added.

“Progress toward better practice of science will begin when the blinders enforced by racism are removed and everyone recognizes that inequalities in health and disease across populations are…like any other diagnostic or therapeutic challenge,” the researchers concluded.

Reference

Cooper RS, Nadkarni GN, Ogedegbe G. Race, ancestry, and reporting in medical journals. JAMA. 2018;320(15):1531-1532.