doctor checking the temperature of a man
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Amid the chaos prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic that rocked the economy, exacerbated hospital bed shortages, and presented a domino effect of challenges, the health crisis has heightened attention to the discriminatory health inequities that continue to weigh on Black people across the country. 

The National Medical Association (NMA), which works to emphasize the need for a  “culturally sensitive patient engagement approach,” when addressing treatment and health outcomes for the Black American population, conducted a survey featuring over one thousand patients. According to the final results of the NMA study, published in December 2022, despite adjustments made for social determinants of health, including comorbid illness, health insurance type and income, health outcomes remained more negative for Black people than their white counterparts. 

Black American hospitalization rates during the April 2020 COVID surge ranked 3.3 times the rates of white people across the United States.  Simultaneously, Black Americans reportedly hold the worst health outcomes irrespective of the specific diagnoses. When observing cardiovascular disease, for example, these patients rank less likely to undergo diagnostic tests and revascularization even after socioeconomic factors are under control.  

The collective of researchers and physicians gathered further consensus from statements made by their various interviewees, with responses giving possible answers to why there are these patterns across the Black population. Subjects overwhelmingly highlighted the common experience of negligent or incurious physicians.  Interviewees, varying in age, shared the desire for genuine sensitivity to their health inquiries, empathy and respect in how their needs are being addressed as would anyone of any race, or socioeconomic background.

“These powerful [sentiments shared by our subjects] are saying, “Do you know me, do you know my historical background, do you understand the basis of my pain and my suffering? Do you possess the level of cultural sensitivity to comprehend who I am and what issues in my life are most important to me?” the editorial report says, as part of the NMA study. 

The association’s study provides recommendations beneficial to both patients and medical providers to encourage a comfortable, empathetic environment for the patients when addressing their health challenges.  

Two prominent recommendations include:

For The Patient To Know

  • The Importance of Questions Is Multifaceted: One’s level of fear and lack of acceptance of a disease or curable issue can often cause severe emotional distress. Helping your physician to know what is of importance to you will encourage avenues for enhanced compliance, engagement, and improved health outcomes.

For The Provider To Know

  • Connect With Your Patient, And Potential Family: As a medical provider, trust is of utmost importance when understanding your patient’s issues to figure out their medical grievances.  Be sure to ask questions like: “What fears does the patient have that keep them up at night?  What are their greatest health goals?  What health concerns worry them the most?”

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