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Study finds that racial disparities in medical care begin at birth

| Feb 23, 2021 | birth injury

It’s been well-established that there are still serious inequities in the medical care received by Black patients (women in particular) compared to White patients. This is due in part to socioeconomic differences but also to conscious and unconscious biases by medical providers. Moreover, just 5% of doctors in this country are Black.

This disparity begins at birth. Black women have more than triple the rate of death in childbirth as white women, and Black newborns have more than double the chance of dying as white babies.

What happens when you factor in the doctor’s race?

A study published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) last year found that when you factor in the race of the doctor caring for the mother and her baby, the numbers change. The study of 1.8 million hospital births over more than 20 years found that when Black newborns are cared for by a White doctor, they’re three times more likely to die than Caucasian  babies. When their physician is also Black, that mortality rate drops by approximately half.

As one of the study’s researchers notes, “Our health care system has not yet grappled with the fact that it has been built on a history of racist ideas that we have to name and explosively dismantle. These ideas of racial inferiority…may not be explicitly taught in medical school, but they’re certainly not debunked….”

Why does a doctor’s race make a difference?

When asked why having a Black doctor would improve a baby’s chances of survival, another one of the researchers said, “Black doctors may be more in tune with the specific experience that Black newborns are facing, [such as] more challenging births as the result of increased socioeconomic pressures.”

The answer, as the researchers noted, isn’t for patients to be treated only by doctors of their own race, but to make sure that all doctors know about the differences in care that might be necessary based on a patient’s race.

If they have the option, many people prefer to be cared for by doctors of their own race, gender or ethnicity. It can help them feel more comfortable sharing information that will improve their care.

There is no excuse for medical negligence that harms a patient. If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it’s wise to talk with an experienced attorney.