Thursday, January 22, 2009

Healthcare Disparities: Do You Treat Patients Differently Based on Race or Culture? (Video 3:43 mins.)

During my healthcare research, I have repeatedly come across data revealing major disparities in America’s healthcare system. Overwhelming evidence indicates that these disparities negatively affect certain racial and ethnic groups. America’s long history of overt and covert racism, with all its stereotypes and discrimination, continues to pervade its institutions in ways underestimated by many people, including those who are victimized by it. In my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes, I address this urgent matter:

“The responsibility for changing attitudes that cause disparities within the healthcare system rests with that system. This is not only a healthcare issue, but also a moral one. This system cannot continue to sit down in the middle of an unjust road, cause harm to others, and not be held accountable. Healthcare providers must own the fact that a large amount of research on disparities in racial and ethnic minority healthcare is true and make every effort to demonstrate equitable practices.

Better education in racial and ethnic cultural sensitivity, however, is not enough. Negative stereotypes are activated with and without intent, particularly in high-pressure work environments. Serious accountability from healthcare providers must include rewards and penalties. Incentives should be offered to encourage healthcare institutions to work diligently at lowering their incidents of disparities negatively impacting racial and ethnic minorities, as well as women and low economic groups. Solutions must be implemented with ongoing monitoring. Disparities of the magnitude that exists now will not be willed away.”

There is a tendency among some healthcare workers to assume that the solution to this problem rests with leaders of the “institution” when, in fact, it belongs to each person making up the institution. The question “Do you treat patients differently based on race or culture?” is one that every healthcare worker must explore at a personal level with honesty. In spite of overwhelming research to the contrary, most responders still say, ”Oh, I’m colorblind. I treat everybody the same.” Recognition of the problem is the first step toward improvement. Racial and ethnic disparities must be eliminated before America will ever realize true equality in healthcare among its diverse populations.

You can read more about cradle-to-grave African American healthcare disparities here:

This video defines and addresses the need for healthcare cultural competency:

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

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