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Health & Medicine

Survey Highlights Prejudices, Treatment Disparities in Healthcare

— January 4, 2024

Discrimination continues to be evident in medical care.

In the intricate landscape of healthcare, a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) sheds light on the persistent disparities faced by people of color, revealing a pervasive worry about the impact of appearance on the quality of healthcare they receive. The study, involving nearly 6,300 patients who received care in the past three years, underscores the prevalence of racial discrimination within the U.S. healthcare system.

The findings indicate that around 55% of Black adults express the need to be exceptionally cautious about their appearance to receive fair treatment from doctors and healthcare providers. This concern extends to almost half of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Hispanic patients, and approximately 40% of Asian patients. In stark contrast, only 29% of white individuals surveyed shared similar concerns about their appearance before medical appointments.

The study reveals a disheartening reality, where individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups brace themselves for potential insults and judgments before seeking medical care. The stress induced by this anticipation, coupled with the actual health issues individuals might be facing, creates an added layer of complexity to the healthcare experience.

Discrimination and disparities within the healthcare system has long been a pressing concern, particularly due to the significant racial disparities in health outcomes, with adverse impacts disproportionately affecting Black individuals. The survey paints a vivid picture of the challenges faced by patients, highlighting the need for a shift in the way healthcare is delivered, perceived, and experienced.

Survey Highlights Prejudices, Treatment Disparities in Healthcare
Photo by RDNE Stock project from Pexels

The experiences recounted in the survey provide concrete examples of the impact of racial bias on patient care. A Hispanic man in Illinois shared that wearing clothes with his university logo during healthcare appointments led to more attentive and involved treatment when healthcare providers knew he was a professor. Conversely, a 44-year-old Asian woman in California felt dismissed by her white male doctors regarding her concerns about breathing issues, only to be later diagnosed with asthma.

The study also delves into broader negative experiences within the healthcare system. A third of adults reported at least one negative encounter with a healthcare provider in the past three years, ranging from assumptions made without inquiry to attributing blame for health problems. Disturbingly, nearly a quarter of Black adults and a significant percentage of Alaska Native, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian adults believed they endured negative treatment due to their race or ethnicity.

Pregnant Black adults reported instances of denial of pain medication they believed they needed at a rate twice that of white adults in similar circumstances. These findings emphasize the urgent need for addressing systemic biases that affect the quality of care provided to individuals based on their racial or ethnic background.

Moreover, the study highlights the impact of discrimination and disparities outside the healthcare system on individuals’ mental health. Those who experienced discrimination in their everyday lives were more than twice as likely to report feelings of anxiety, loneliness, or depression compared to those who do not face discrimination.

The survey highlights the significance of diversity within the healthcare system. Individuals from racial and ethnic backgrounds, who had over half of their medical visits with a provider sharing their race or ethnicity, reported more positive experiences. Specifically, Black patients with at least half of their visits involving a Black healthcare provider were more likely to receive explanations in understandable terms.

Moreover, these patients addressed broader health factors such as employment, housing, and access to food and transportation compared to those who did not engage with providers of their same racial or ethnic background.

The KFF survey serves as a stark reminder that despite increased awareness and calls to address racism, persistent racial biases within the healthcare system continue to affect the experiences and outcomes of patients of color.

The study, in essence, asks for a rehabilitated focus on hiring more people from different races and ethnicities in healthcare to foster understanding, trust, and improved patient-provider communication. Addressing racial bias in healthcare is not only a moral imperative but also crucial for building a more equitable and effective healthcare system.


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Survey on Racism, Discrimination and Health: Experiences and Impacts Across Racial and Ethnic Groups

Key Data on Health and Health Care by Race and Ethnicity

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