Race and medicine: the struggle to improve care for African-Americans

Connected coverage — selected articles on trends, challenges and controversies in the changing world of medicine.

Posted March 11, 2013

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Although many efforts are under way to reduce disparities in care between blacks and whites, recent evidence has found that there is a long way to go to close those gaps.

American Medical News has reported on the problem of care disparities, what might cause them and how a declining share of African-American physicians could undermine efforts to solve them. All minorities have notable disparities of care, but blacks comparably tend to be worse off and are not seeing some of the improvements others have made. As a result, leaders in medicine are looking harder at possible solutions to ensure that all get equal access to, and quality of, care.

Black men increasingly hard to find in medical schools

As other minorities have made gains in their medical school representation, African-Americans are notable in that they make up an ever-smaller share of students. The trend is particularly pronounced among black men. Education leaders say the decline could exacerbate care disparities, in that African-American physicians are more likely than those of other groups to work in underserved areas.

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Disparities in care for blacks linked to segregation, unconscious bias

Two separate studies found that unintentional bias by physicians against African-Americans and a history of segregation are factors in blacks receiving lower-quality care, and being less satisfied with the care they receive, compared with non-Hispanic whites. Researchers said the findings are particularly troubling because lower patient satisfaction scores have long been linked to poorer outcomes, less medication adherence and more frequent hospitalizations.

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Health disparities persist as overall care quality slowly improves

According to an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality report, African-Americans get the worst care among all minorities, while they also have worse access to care than do non-Hispanic whites. The AHRQ said reforms under the Affordable Care Act could help reduce those disparities, but that more needs to be done to ensure that blacks and other minority populations get the same quality and access to care as whites.

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