Black Americans anticipate dealing with racism during a doctor’s visit, survey finds

By Daniel Miller

A growing number of people of color say they face racial disparities during a doctor’s visit when receiving care, a recent study reveals. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), an independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, polled nearly 6,300 people to gather their data for the report.  This survey, conducted during the summer of 2023, is part of an ongoing series of studies the organization will do on the effects of racism and discrimination. 

Researchers uncovered alarming findings based on responses from people of color when describing their experiences at the doctor’s office. 

When discussing experiences of unfair treatment by health care providers, around one in five Black adults (18%) and about one in 10 American Indian and Alaska native adults (12%), Hispanic (11%), and Asian (10%) adults who received health care in the past three years reported receiving unfair treatment or being disrespected by a health care provider due to their racial or ethnic background compared to the same responses from white adults (3%). 

Separately, LGBT adults are about twice as likely as non-LGBT adults to say they experienced unfair treatment by a health care provider for any reason in the past three years, the survey noted. 

A third of adults who received health care in the past three years report at least one of several negative experiences with a health care provider.  Black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, and Alaska native adults were much more likely than white people to report having negative interactions during health care visits.

Factors people of color shared based on their negative experiences during their visits included their gender, health insurance status, and ability to pay for care. 

According to the KFF, these experiences included a health care provider assuming something about them without asking, suggesting they were personally to blame for a health problem, ignoring a direct request or question, or refusing to prescribe pain medication they assumed they needed. 

Black women (22%) who were pregnant or gave birth in the past decade said they were refused pain medication they needed, compared to white women (10%). 

Moreover, roughly a quarter of people of color said that doctors were less likely to involve them in decisions about their care. 

In another troubling finding from the report, Black adults with self-reported darker skin tones report more discrimination in their everyday lives. 

Sixty-two percent of Black adults who say their skin color is “very dark” or “dark” reported incidents of discrimination in the past year, compared to 42% of Black adults who say their skin color is “very light” or “light.”

The study also found that people of color experience positive interactions with health care providers who look like them. 

Nearly half of Black (62%), Hispanic (56%), American Indian and Alaska Native (56%) and Asian (53%) adults who used health care in the last three years said fewer than half of their visits were with a provider who shared their racial and ethnic background, compared to 73% of White adults. 

Additionally, Black, Hispanic and Asian adults said that the positive visits happened based on their doctor explaining things in a way they could understand, involving them in decision-making about their care, and understanding or respecting their cultural values or beliefs.