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Why lack of racial diversity among doctors can be dangerous

It's an unfortunate reality in this country that there are significant health disparities between white patients and those of other racial and ethnic groups -- particularly black patients. Some of these are caused by unequal treatment by physicians and other health care providers. At least part of the problem is that black patients are less likely to trust white doctors than black ones.

One doctor who studies ways to improve health care delivery and racial health disparities says that increasing what he calls "patient-provider racial and ethnic concordance" would help improve health outcomes for non-white patients. Studies have shown that when a patient is the same race as the doctor, the doctor spends more time with them, they wait less time for treatment and they share more in treatment decisions than if the doctor is of a different race. However, over half of the doctors in this country are white. By contrast, only about 6% are black.

If you're not able to find a physician of your race, there are things you can do to help increase your doctor's accountability and improve your rapport with them. These include:

  • Bringing along a family member or friend to help advocate for you.
  • Bringing an interpreter or asking for one at the facility if there's a language barrier.
  • Asking for documentation of everything that was discussed or recommended during your visit.
  • Speaking up if you believe you're not receiving the attention or care you deserve. The only way that health care facilities often learn that they have a physician or other provider who is treating minority patients differently -- whether intentionally or not -- is when patients or family members report a problem.

When patients receive substandard care because a doctor doesn't take the necessary time to make a proper diagnosis or ignores a patient's concerns, the results can cause harm -- or worse. If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to a lack of proper care by a doctor, it may be wise to determine what legal options you have.

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