racial ethnic disparities healthcare

Disparities in Health Care

“I just don’t like doctors…”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that statement from one of my sisters or brothers, I’d be sitting on a small fortune right now. As a nurse, I see too many of us who are getting sicker younger – and some are even dying – due to inequities in our healthcare system.

A 2016 report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on national health issues, states: “Blacks and American Indians and Alaska Natives fare worse than Whites on the majority of examined measures of health status and health outcomes.”

Racial and ethnic disparities in health care are widely known, and various initiatives are in place to address them. While some progress has been made, people of color still face significant challenges in this area.

Why the disparity?

First, let’s define disparity: “inequality or difference in some respect.” Many minorities are very aware of the disparities they face in all areas of their lives and healthcare is no different, however, the reasons for the inconsistency are not clearly defined.

Some feel that minorities and those in a lower socioeconomic class have a different set of priorities than the general
population. Issues like making sure bills are paid and children are fed often take priority over one’s personal health.

Some feel that a lack of education and access to healthcare are the issues. Still others believe that the cost of healthcare and distrust of healthcare providers are to blame.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains: a real disparity exists.

How am I affected?

The statistics presented in the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation report include:

  • 17% of Black children have asthma, compared to 10% of White children
  • Black women are more than twice as likely than White women to receive late or no prenatal care
  • The infant mortality rate is more than twice as high for Black women than it is for White women
  • Black people experience higher death rates from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer
  • The death rate for those diagnosed with HIV is 8 times higher for Black people than it is for Whites

What can I do?

While there are various institutional issues that affect health outcomes, there are some steps we can take as individuals to combat these challenges.

Live a healthy lifestyle

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise at least five times a week and manage your stress.
  • Keep your weight in a healthy range and work on bad habits like smoking and excessive drinking.

Take charge of your health

  • Visit your healthcare provider at least annually.
  • If you’re not comfortable with a conventional doctor, try a nurse practitioner or a naturopathic physician. Talk to a friend or neighbor; they may be able to recommend someone they trust.
  • Prepare a written list of questions before a doctor’s office visit, and do not leave until you have them answered.
  • Where possible, have a close friend or family member attend appointments for support and advocacy.

Research options if you’re uninsured

  • Many states and counties have programs that provide healthcare to low income and uninsured persons in the community. Check with your local department of health for details.