Where Can Change Start?
A considerable number of patients experience discrimination in the country’s healthcare system. Over 21% of adults report being discriminated against, and 72% of this group say they’ve experienced discrimination more than once. Racial and ethnic discrimination are the most commonly experienced by Americans seeking medical attention. These events affect the kind of care patients receive, putting their well-being at risk. For instance, a doctor’s refusal to treat a person of color (POC) in an emergency highly endangers the patient’s health.
On that note, let’s dive deeper into discrimination in America’s healthcare systems—and what’s being done to address it.
Stories of discrimination in healthcare
The LGBTQ community is receiving the brunt of gender discrimination. Take the story of Jacob Gammon, a Black gay man in his early twenties. Clinic staff kept refusing him when he went for a checkup, persuading him to seek care in other places after learning of his sexual orientation. This experience discouraged him from seeking and taking care of his health needs, as he only started looking for another care provider a further 6 months after the incident. In more urgent situations, such a delay would have more seriously worsened Gammon’s health condition.
Racial discrimination is prevalent despite efforts like the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements. Tomeka Isaac is a Black woman with an undiagnosed condition that affected her pregnancy. As it turns out, her OB did not perform standard procedures like urine testing that would have detected her HELPP syndrome. This resulted in a horrible birth experience that traumatized Isaac and her husband. Moreover, she shared that doctors often assumed Black women’s pain tolerance to be higher. Her experience and these baseless assumptions continue to endanger Black women’s health.
Where can change start?
Improving healthcare management education
With the above stories proving the dire need for more equal treatment in healthcare, changes to improve diversity must start with healthcare leaders. This way, they can set the tone for these changes and encourage other medical professionals—doctors, nurses, and other health staff—to follow suit. Healthcare leaders at universities are leading the charge by upgrading their healthcare management degrees to help prepare healthcare leaders. This education more effectively trains them to identify modern healthcare challenges in their respective institutions and present practical solutions. For instance, they can propose organizational policies that promote anti-discrimination in their healthcare facility.
Hiring more diverse healthcare professionals
Aside from patients, healthcare workers experience discrimination in the healthcare system. POCs and LGBTQ medical professionals have a more challenging time getting hired. For example, overseas nurses are discriminated against for their supposed inferior and foreign nursing education. Despite being qualified nurses, they’re stripped of the chance to provide care due to race. These can potentially cause problems for America’s healthcare system amid nurse shortages. A less diverse system also endangers patients. Previously mentioned was a Black woman’s traumatic birthing experience because doctors had assumptions about her pain tolerance. With a more inclusive and diverse medical staff, patients like her will be treated without prejudice. Lastly, a diverse team can educate fellow professionals on any false assumptions they may have.
Better anti-discrimination education for the healthcare industry
The Office for Civil Rights has enforced several anti-discrimination regulations regarding healthcare. One includes Section 1908 of the Public Health Service Act, which prohibits discrimination based on age, color, race, and disability. While this is a great initiative, it will improve with better anti-discrimination education for health professionals. This should include a better understanding of such policies, suitable actions when witnessing discriminatory acts in medical facilities, and the dangers of discrimination in the industry. A deeper understanding of these issues can prevent discrimination within the healthcare system more effectively.
While discrimination still exists in America’s healthcare system, there are several ways to change it. Improved healthcare management education, a more diverse healthcare staff, and better anti-discrimination education can help address the issue.
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