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Many people of color worry good health care is tied to their appearance

Colleen DeGuzman, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Many people from racial and ethnic minority groups brace themselves for insults and judgments before medical appointments, according to a new survey of patients that reaffirms the prevalence of racial discrimination in the U.S. health system.

The KFF survey of nearly 6,300 patients who have had care in the past three years found that about 55% of Black adults feel they have to be very careful about their appearance to be treated fairly by doctors and other health providers. Nearly half of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Hispanic patients feel similarly, as do about 4 in 10 Asian patients.

By comparison, 29% of white people surveyed said they worried about their appearance before appointments.

“In 2023, the notion that any person must prepare for discrimination is sad on one hand and angering on the other,” Burgess Harrison, executive director of the National Minority Health Association, wrote in an email. “The stress that this causes, in addition to whatever health issue involved, is crazy.”

Discrimination has long been a concern for both patients and health providers in the U.S., where racial disparities in health outcomes are vast and particularly unfavorable toward Black people.

A 30-year-old Hispanic man in Illinois who responded to the KFF survey told researchers he wears clothes to health care appointments with the logo of the university where he works. He noticed, he said, that when health care providers know he is a professor, they listen to him more intently and involve him more in care decisions.

 

A 44-year-old Asian woman in California told the researchers that her white male doctors ignored her concerns about breathing issues, telling her she “was probably just thinking too hard about breathing.” She was later diagnosed with asthma.

The two respondents were not identified in the study.

The survey offers “a way to actually quantify what those experiences are with racism and discrimination, and the multitude of ways they then impact people’s lives,” said Samantha Artiga, director of KFF’s racial equity and health policy program.

“For folks who have been following these issues for a long time, the findings are not unexpected,” she said.

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©2023 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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