How much do you believe that your doctor cares and really listens to you?
Well, a new study suggests that your race may influence how you answer that question. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that patients of color were less likely to trust their white doctors compared to whites.
Looking at the most current data available on patient experience, race and racism, in a university press release lead researcher Abigail Sewell says that they found that “minorities in general don’t have a lot of faith that they’re receiving the best care they could. ”
Some of the main issues stem from patients feeling that white doctors lack cultural competency and interpersonal skills when talking to them about their health and how to better it.
“I think more important, the fact that they think their doctors don’t care means they feel their doctors aren’t taking into consideration their personal lives,” Sewell added.
One example that Sewell gave to illuminate this doctor-patient disconnect was a story of an older female patient. In an interview, the woman recalled that her doctor told her she wasn’t allowed to lift more than five pounds in the upcoming few weeks. However, this patient was responsible for taking care of her 18-month grandchild, which consisting of lifting the toddler who weighed around 20 pounds.
But what was this grandmother going to do? Not watch her grandchild? What if her providing childcare was the main way that the child’s parents could go to work and make an income?
Sewell explains, “Doctors are trained to see symptoms, they’re trained to follow a set of recommended behavior” perhaps without asking the “right” questions or taking into account the actual everyday lives and responsibilities these patients have.
Sewell says that doctors having better “structural competency” can make a huge difference in improving patients’ health and closing this mistrust gap. This term, which is beginning to gain popularity in the public health realm, refers to the ability for doctors to provide health care that prioritizes a patient’s race, where they live, whether they live in poverty, certain cultural practices and the policies that affect patients when providing health care.
“The very likelihood of being sick is actually shaped by the world that we live in, not just the biological processes,” Sewell said. “Structural competency aims to develop a language at a level above the patient.”
We know that patient-doctor mistrust is not stranger to the Black community. From the Tuskegee Experiment to Henrietta Lacks to even more recent studies citing racial bias in the doctor’s office, African-Americans seem to have always been at odds with the health care system–this study continue to highlight that legacy.