Survey: Half of Health Care Workers Say Patient Discrimination is a Major Problem

Half of all health care workers believe racism against patients is a major problem or crisis, according to a new study by The Commonwealth Fund and the African American Research Collaborative (AARC).

In the comprehensive study, Revealing Disparities: Health Care Workers’ Observations of Discrimination in Their Field, researchers surveyed 3,000 health care workers from different ethnic backgrounds, ages, facilities, and areas of care about their thoughts and experiences with patient discrimination.

“Discrimination based on race or ethnicity presents a serious barrier to obtaining high-quality, equitable health care. Because health care workers bear witness to the treatment of patients in the course of their jobs, they can provide a fuller understanding of how and where discrimination in health care provision occurs, as well as how it can be reduced,” the researchers wrote.

The survey included responses to topics revolving around quality of care based on race, occurrences of discrimination, the effect of patient discrimination on stress, and more.

While those involved in the survey represented several different demographics, health care workers who identified themselves as either Black or Latino had some of the most significant response, highlighting a greater need for diversity in the health care field to ensure equitable care for all.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the survey.

Survey Results on Patient Discrimination

Of the health care workers surveyed in the new study, 52% say that discrimination against patients is a major problem or crisis.

The survey also revealed that Black and Latino health workers were more likely to designate patient discrimination based on race than workers who identify as Asian American/Pacific Islander or White.

In addition, 79% of workers in facilities that see many Black patients and 66% in facilities that mostly serve Latinos reported discrimination was either a major problem or crisis.

47% of the health care workers polled have witnessed patient discrimination.

Black and Latino health care workers have witnessed the most discrimination at 62% and 58%, respectively.

What’s more, facilities that see higher populations of Black and Latino patients have higher incidents of discrimination at 70% and 61%, respectively, compared to facilities with mostly white patients at 43%.

When asked if they agreed that medical providers can be more accepting of white patients advocating for themselves than Black patients, 48% of health care workers said they strongly or somewhat agreed.

57% of health care workers either strongly or somewhat agree that patients who speak languages other than English, such as Spanish, Chinese, or Creole, don’t always receive equal quality treatment from health care providers.

Black and Latino health care workers, who are in a unique position to observe quality of care differences in those who a similar ethnic background, were more likely to agree with both those statements.

Many health care workers say that they have experienced stress because of racial or ethnic discrimination in the industry.

Over the last five years, discrimination has caused at least a little stress in 69% of health care workers.

Black health care workers reported the most discrimination stress at 85% followed by Latino health workers at 79%, compared to only 62% white health care workers.

Addressing the Issue of Health Care Discrimination

Upon witnessing instances of discrimination, the new study also asked health care workers to chime in on ways to address the problem.

One of the solutions they came up with was to provide an easy and anonymous way for health care workers and patients to report racism and discrimination.

By establishing an anonymous reporting system, any claims can be handled while protecting the person’s identity and allows for appropriate follow-up procedures.

Health care workers believe that facilities should review their policies to ensure equitable treatment outcomes for patients of color, such as Latinos.

To cut down on discrimination, health care professionals should be required to take discrimination classes as part of their academic institution’s curriculum accompanied by additional training to spot discrimination.

It was suggested that special consideration should be made for non-English-speaking by taking a hard look at how they are being treated and address the concerns accordingly.

Lastly, everyone deserves a spot at the table when it comes to voicing some of those concerns.

Making a conscious effort to create opportunities to listen to patients and health care workers of color can provide valuable insight in the fight against discrimination.

Eliminating Implicit Bias

 An important way to decrease health care discrimination is addressing implicit bias.

Implicit biases are defined as subconscious or conscious stereotypes formed that could potentially impact the way we think about another person and influence our decisions based on those stereotypes.

In health care, implicit biases can have severe consequences in the quality and outcome of life-saving treatments.

For example, physicians may presume you can’t afford a type of treatment and not offer it based on how you look.

Take the important first steps toward understanding and overcoming your own biases by downloading the free Salud America! Action Pack “Health Care Workers and Researchers: Find If You Have Implicit Bias and What to Do Next.”

This Action Pack will give insight into any implicit biases you may hold, so you can be aware of them, by taking an “Implicit Association Test (IAT).”

Once you understand your own implicit biases, you can encourage others to take the test and learn about implicit biases.

“This Action Pack will help you see if you have implicit bias, learn from others who have overcome their own implicit bias, and encourage colleagues to learn about implicit bias, too,” said Dr. Amelie Ramirez, director of Salud America! and its home base, the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.


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