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Racism and Discrimination in Health Care

December 5, 2020

Discrimination is defined as making unjustified distinctions between people based on the groups, classes, or other categories of which they’re thought to be part. Individuals may suffer discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and other categories. Discrimination can stem from social interactions that happen to protect more powerful or privileged groups at the expense of other groups.

Sadly, discrimination happens fairly frequently, as 31% of U.S. adults say they’ve experienced at least one major discriminatory event in their lifetime. Plus, 63% report experiencing discrimination everyday.

How Does Discrimination Arise in Healthcare?

Doctors typically take an oath to treat all patients equally. This includes providing care to all patients—regardless of their ability to pay, social class, education, race, or possible involvement with criminal activity. But this isn’t always the case.

For example, a patient recently requested an STD test from a doctor. The doctor tested her for a yeast infection without her knowledge but told her that her STD test was negative. The woman later found out that she did have an STD. Because it went untreated, she alleged that she developed Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.

There are thousands of people of color who’ve experienced doctors who have dismissed their pain and symptoms and have had near-death experiences because these physicians failed to provide proper treatment.

Has There Been Discrimination in Healthcare with the Coronavirus ?

Most recently, some physicians have stated that they’ve seen biases in how Black patients have been treated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Black people comprise roughly 13% of the U.S. population but account for at least 23% of coronavirus deaths. That disparity persuaded researchers to examine who was being tested for COVID-19 when patients go to an emergency room.

The study revealed that physicians have disproportionately ordered more coronavirus tests for people who were white—despite the fact that people of color who are much more likely to be affected. Moreover, COVID-19 test results for people of color came back positive at a higher rate.

Coronavirus tests in the current pandemic is just one instance of how Black people and other individuals of color frequently experience discrimination in our country’s health care system.

Blacks are dramatically more likely than whites to suffer from chronic health conditions such as diabetes and asthma, according to the CDC. Moreover, Blacks have the highest mortality rate for all cancers compared to any other racial group. Their infant mortality rate is nearly double the national average. In addition, research has shown that Black women are 42% more likely to die of breast cancer than White women; likewise, Blacks are at higher risk of both developing and dying from colon cancer. Black men are more than 1½ times more likely to get prostate cancer, according to the CDC. And both Black men and women are more than twice as likely to develop myeloma cancer.

Finally, the CDC found that Black women are also about three times more likely than white women to die during childbirth.

Does Discrimination Lead to Injury and Death?

Yes. Unfortunately, the life expectancy for Americans who are born black is about seven years less than that for Americans born white. The evidence shows that this discrepancy in part results from the life-threatening effects of discrimination in healthcare.

Research in 2016 showed that Black and Latino patients going to an emergency room for heart failure were more often admitted for treatment by general medicine providers than cardiology specialists. But white patients were frequently treated by specialists who could provide better treatment. The fact is that heart failure patients who were treated by general practitioners had a higher hospital readmission rate than those treated by specialists. Studies also show that doctors were less likely to refer Black patients for necessary heart treatment, and that Black patients are statistically less likely to have a heart specialist assigned to them or an intervention performed to evaluate the blood supply to their hearts.

Black people have higher death rates for eight of the 13 leading causes of death. This may be a result of a physician’s failure to treat.

Failure to Treat

A doctor’s failure to diagnose an illness or a misdiagnosis can cause a delay in treatment, treatment for a condition the patient doesn’t actually have, or no treatment at all.

Doctors may move too quickly through an examination of a patient to stay on schedule. Some physicians may have biases that affect how Black patients are treated. This can include failing to acknowledge or respond to a patient’s complaints and symptoms or draw conclusions about the patient’s condition. Like the example of the woman who asked for an STD test, a doctor may fail to order the proper tests. And a doctor may fail to conduct proper screening or evaluation of a patient’s medical records or family history.


If a doctor fails to treat a patient who has a medical condition—possibly because of discrimination—it can be considered medical malpractice if it was caused by negligence or a medical error.

If you visit your doctor and he or she doesn’t treat what’s hurting you—like symptoms of COVID-19—and their failure to treat you causes injury, you may have reason to file a medical malpractice action against them and seek compensation for your injuries.

Contact us!

For a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Michigan, contact Buchanan Firm. We can discuss your situation if you believe you’ve been injured as the result of a misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, or an error in surgery that was the product of discrimination in  your healthcare.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.

Contact us today!