Some studies demonstrate that, in the United States, blacks are much more likely than whites to receive poor healthcare. For many observers, the racism of doctors and other healthcare workers is the mechanism behind the health disparities that comes to mind most quickly. The idea that the racism of healthcare workers is a significant reason for the disparity in treatment finds support in a 1999 study by Jose Abreu.
The study demonstrates that healthcare providers are susceptible to being significantly influenced by racial stereotypes, which for black Americans are often very negative stereotypes.
The Design of the Study
In the study, Abreu flashed a series of words at the rate of about one-tenth of a second each on computer screens in front of 60 therapists or therapists in training. Half of the subjects were shown words with no racial undertone (water, then, would, about, things, completely, people, difference, television, experience, something, and thought), while the other half were shown words that generally played into stereotypes about black Americans (Negroes, Blacks, lazy, blues, rhythm, Africa, ghetto, welfare, basketball, unemployed, and plantation).
The subjects were then given a hypothetical patient and told to evaluate him on a number of dimensions, including general impressions.
The Results of the Study
Members of the group that had been primed with the words related to stereotypes were much more likely than the other group to view the hypothetical patient as hostile: 70 percent of the subjects in the group given stereotype-related words viewed that patient as hostile, compared with 40 percent of the subjects from the other group.
The study supports the view that racial stereotypes negatively affect how mental health professionals see their patients. Keep this in mind, while also considering that, as Abreu notes, it’s important in a therapeutic relationship for the patient to be perceived by the mental health professional realistically and without “noise,” or else the patient is less likely to benefit from the treatment.
What Can Be Done to Improve Health Outcomes for Black Americans
individuals, we can and should hold hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare
professionals accountable for errors they make. All too often individuals who
are injured by healthcare professionals or the families of those individuals
never seek the help of a medical malpractice attorney. Further, we can and
should push lawmakers–especially those in blue states–to fix medical
malpractice laws; for example, in Maryland, we can and should push lawmakers to
lengthen the applicable statute of limitations and to eliminate the cap on
damages for pain and suffering. When black people receive inferior healthcare
due to racism, limiting their ability to sue and recover substantial damages
for the harm inferior care causes is a civil rights issue.