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Minorities in Healthcare: Adjusting with the Times and Paving the Path for Healthcare Diversity

January 10, 2020

The United States, by its very nature, constantly undergoes significant demographic change. By 2050, the current minorities, or non-white population, in the United States will become the majority, according to a 2019 study. However, population statistics alone won’t mean that people of color truly have representation. Even as future majority, today’s minorities will continue to face the same issues if no actions are taken to further expand diversity and inclusion. Through deliberate and careful effort, increasing minorities in healthcare will pave the way for healthcare diversity. By increasing diversity in healthcare, professionals can address the racial and ethnic healthcare disparities which echo across multiple dimensions of population health. Moral and ethical dilemmas also play into these disparities, resulting in misdiagnoses and poor management of chronic conditions.

Diversity leads to increased patient choice and satisfaction

As the minority population continues to grow, so does the need for increased minority representation in healthcare. Healthcare organizations must adjust to the times to constantly seek improvement and patient satisfaction. As more organizations develop patient satisfaction-based cultures, it’s important to connect with every patient who walks in the door. Racial patients who have a choice in their physicians are more likely to select those sharing their own race or ethnic background because they feel a stronger personal connection in terms of language and cultural sensitivity, according to a study by John Hopkins University. However, the sad truth remains—patients don’t always have the luxury to choose their physicians because of both the organizational structures of healthcare and a fundamental lack of diversity. By increasing diversity, however, hospitals can provide patients with the choice of physician, helping every patient feel comfortable and confident when seeing a doctor.

Perhaps even more important than comfort, patients choose to trust physicians who share a similar ethnic background more than a patient who doesn’t, according to US News. Furthermore, a patient that has a provider that represents them feels more empowered to ask questions. Mistrust in caregivers leaves grey areas in their patient-physician connection, which can cause crucial questions to be silenced. In fact, 4 out of 5 Americans withhold important information from their doctor because they feel uncomfortable or disagree with their doctor and are afraid to speak up. Patients that withhold information from their doctor significantly increase health risks and make it difficult for healthcare professionals to provide proper care. Unfortunately, sometimes race acts as a barrier to human connection—even though we are all human.

Cultural competence is necessary to advance. 

Of course, creating a diverse healthcare environment demands more than just diverse hiring. Culturally competent staff have the ability to collaborate effectively with individuals from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. For healthcare organizations to improve their cultural competency, specific measures of diversity training and must take place across the entire organization.

“Diversity in education environments improves the quality of education for health professionals, which, in turn, improves their ability to treat patients from a wide range of cultural and social backgrounds,” states Health Professionals for Diversity  (HPD). By adding diversity and inclusion training to your organization, organizations help the physician and patients to better interact, bond, and disregard their cultural differences and perspectives. This creates a stronger patient-physician connection and allows the patient to feel more at-ease and receptive to care. The HPD also finds growing evidence that increasing diversity education can also improve learning outcomes for future generation physicians. This is especially helpful for the rising, younger generations as they begin their careers on a culturally competent foot versus adapting after several years have passed.

Racial bias in healthcare. 

Often, implicit bias gets in the way of how people think. It subconsciously clouds the brain and can make innocent thoughts racist, even if that was never the intent. Today, most people recognize that discrimination is unethical and wrong. However, both physicians and patients struggle from implicit bias, according to Harvard Medical School. For example, a Caucasian patient may make assumptions about their person of color physician, or vise versa. These biases can greatly affect the quality and satisfaction of care, no matter where they came from.

Dr. Saai, a Harvard Medical School graduate states, “We as physicians and society more generally—must realize that the struggles of one marginalized community are struggles of all of us. My fight as a Muslim-American doctor to serve my patients without fear of racism, and the fight of an African-American patient to be treated with dignity and respect, should also be your fight.” And although people’s implicit bias remains, both physicians and patients should spread awareness and education about racial bias in healthcare.

Diversity in healthcare helps to pave the way to stronger relationships with both the physician and patient. If we want to keep up with the estimated population shifts, we must begin now in addressing the racial healthcare disparities. Starting sooner rather than later helps to prevent misdiagnoses and increases patient-physician relationships. Our opinions aren’t worth the risk of neglecting the physicians or patients of color. With the increase of diversity and addressing racial and ethnic disparities, this helps increase patient experience and grows stronger building blocks of our society. We all deserve to be heard.

Further reading:

Cultural competence and ethnic diversity in healthcare

Highlight diversity in medical school applications

Patient-physician relationships and racial disparities in the quality of health care

Racism and discrimination in healthcare: Providers and patients

Racist patients often leave doctors at loss

The disturbing reason why we don’t believe young, black women are really doctors

The importance of cultural diversity in healthcare

The importance of diversity in healthcare programs

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