Before a visit to the doctor, many people will take some time to prepare themselves mentally, possibly even giving themselves a pep talk to prepare for potential advice to exercise more or to ease any anxiety about needles.
However, dressing nicely with the intention of preventing unjust treatment – or preparing for potential insults?
A recent survey conducted by KFF, a research organization focused on health policy, discovered that a significant number of patients belonging to minority groups – including 3 out of 5 Black participants – often take precautionary measures when visiting a physician.
The survey revealed that 55% of Black participants reported feeling the need to be extra cautious about their appearance in order to receive fair treatment during medical appointments. This percentage is similar to that of Hispanic and Alaska Native patients, but almost twice as high as that of white patients.
Approximately 30% of Black participants are expecting to be offended, which is twice the rate compared to white patients.
“The Associated Press was informed by survey participant Christine Wright, 60, that it is tiring.”
Black woman, Wright, has experienced discrimination for many years, including being called a racial slur by a nurse. In 2017, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has since found a doctor she can rely on. However, she still takes care to dress nicely for her medical appointments, accessorizing with jewelry and wearing a nice coat while ensuring her hair is styled.
She mentally prepares for the judgment and remarks of medical professionals and employees. She reassures herself that their opinions do not define her and their words hold no power over her true self.
Although a majority of individuals surveyed reported no instances of unfair or disrespectful treatment based on their race or ethnicity in healthcare settings within the last three years, experts warn that the fear of unequal treatment can still impact the dynamics between patients and their doctors. This is especially concerning due to the significant disparities in health outcomes among different racial groups in the United States.
According to KFF President Drew Altman, this survey highlights the ongoing effects of racism and discrimination on individuals’ experiences with healthcare.
Dr. Allison Bryant, a physician specializing in childbirth at Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not part of the study, stated that it yielded significant findings, although not necessarily unexpected.
Bryant, who holds the position of associate chief health equity officer at her hospital system, has been told similar experiences by patients of color and has observed it in the patient satisfaction data within the system. As a Black woman, she personally experiences this as well, frequently making sure her ID or wedding ring is visible to prevent making assumptions about her.
Bryant noted that everyone goes through this to a certain degree, but he recognizes why it is more pronounced for people of color who have a history of mistreatment.
Bryant mentioned that the behavior is indicative of a more significant issue which can impact important interactions between a doctor and their patient.
She stated that if you expect mistreatment from someone, you may become more anxious and have difficulty communicating effectively. She also mentioned that there are significant consequences related to this behavior that extend beyond the superficial act of dressing up.
Jeymie Luna Roldán, age 45, was also involved in the study. She believes that her past lack of medical insurance and limited proficiency in English played a role in her negative encounters with doctors. She communicated with the AP in Spanish.
“I am Latina,” explained Roldán from Lake Worth, Florida. “When I have an appointment, I make an effort to dress up a bit by wearing earrings and makeup so that others don’t see me in my work attire. There’s a saying that goes, ‘Como te miro, te trato’ which means ‘How I see you, I will treat you.'”
This means that you will be treated based on your appearance.
Although many individuals claim to anticipate insults and believe that their appearance can affect how they are treated by medical professionals, a vast majority of 93% reported not experiencing any unfair or disrespectful treatment based on their race or ethnicity in the past three years in a healthcare setting.
However, there were notable disparities within different racial categories. According to the survey, Asians and Hispanics reported being mistreated based on their race three times more often than white participants, while Black participants were six times more likely to report such mistreatment.
In addition to medical settings, a significant portion of American Indian and Alaska Native individuals (58%), Black individuals (54%), Hispanic individuals (50%), and Asian individuals (42%) reported facing discrimination in their daily lives at least a few times in the last year. This discrimination includes receiving subpar service at businesses, being subjected to threats or harassment, being treated unfairly due to perceived intelligence, or facing criticism for speaking a language other than English.
According to Bryant, discrimination is not limited to the healthcare industry. Being treated poorly at a car dealership or being targeted at a department store poses a unique risk. In the case of a dismissive cardiologist who doesn’t order necessary tests based on appearance, the potential danger is even greater.
“The impact on healthcare is incredibly significant and quite alarming. It is truly concerning to realize the measures individuals must take to be acknowledged and recognized as a complete human being,” she expressed. “I believe these findings strongly emphasize this issue.”
Mary Conlon, a video journalist from AP, contributed to this report.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides support to the Associated Press Health and Science Department. The AP is solely responsible for all of its content.