Racism: Now a predicament in Medicine
Among the basic rights of a human being, access to adequate healthcare is a very important one. However, at times a lot of factors seem to stand in the way of healthcare, especially if one is a BIPOC person or belongs to any minority. Whether it's patients refusing to see an African-American doctor or doctors treating BIPOC patients poorly, racism in healthcare is a significant problem that needs to be discussed. Here’s more on this by Perspectoverse’s Sanskriti Kundra.
A video was posted on Meta (Facebook) on December 4th, 2020 by Dr. Susan Moore, who was at the time 52, tested positive for COVID-19 on November 29th, was admitted to the hospital, “Yesterday, got a Dr. Bannec, who wanted to send me home “you’re not even short of breath” I said yes I am”. Doctor Moore begged her doctor to give her remdesivir, an antiviral and treatment for immense pain.
“I was in so much pain from my neck, I was crushed. He made me feel like I was a drug addict.” Doctor Bannec insisted on sending Dr. Moore home even though she didn’t feel ready, he also expressed that he is uncomfortable providing doctor Moore with pain medications, in the end, the staff agreed to do a CT scan of her neck and lungs. “The CT went down a little bit into my lungs and you could see new pulmonary infiltrates, new lymphadenopathy all throughout my neck, and all of a sudden “yes we’ll treat your pain”, you have to show proof that you have something wrong with you. I put forward and I maintained. If I were white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.” said doctor Moore.
She received pain medication and a new doctor, upon which she improved slightly but felt her care was still lacking. “This is how black people get killed when you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves. I had to talk to somebody, maybe the media, somebody to let people know how I’m being treated up in this place.”
The hospital discharged her on December 7th though she didn’t feel ready. After being home for 12 hours her temperature spiked and her blood pressure plummeted. She was rushed to a different hospital where they began treating her for bacterial pneumonia as well as COVID-19 pneumonia, she got incubated on December 10th but soon became 100% reliant on a ventilator to breathe. Dr. Moore passed away 2 days later.
Dr. Moore’s case has generated outrage and renewed calls to grapple with biased medical treatment of Black patients. Systematic racism within medicine is a difficult yet fundamental problem topic that needs to be brought to attention more often. Doctors all around the world take an oath to treat all patients equally yet not all patients in need get the care they should. Even though most physicians aren’t outright racist and are committed to treating all patients equally, they still operate in a racist society and their subconscious biases can affect the way they treat their patients. They may not even realize it’s happening because racism is engraved deeply in the mind of humans from generations, so despite their intentions being pure, their actions may fail to reflect that.
One of the biggest trends in medicine throughout the 20th century has been the use of computers to manage healthcare, but medical software can be discriminatory. To elaborate, in 2019, an algorithm that helped manage healthcare for 200 million people in the US was found to systematically discriminate against Black people. In a study published in the journal ‘Science’, the computer gave Black people lower risk scores than their white counterparts, resulting in fewer referrals for medical care. It seems that the computer gave such results because their care costs were less than the average costs for white patients despite the fact that Black patients were comparatively sicker.
Racism in healthcare is not only limited to patients but rather physicians as well, many doctors have reported getting called slurs and even getting attacked for wearing headscarves or for being a person of colour in general. It is necessary that in such situations the physician remains courteous, the patient’s offensive remarks should not affect the quality of their care in any way.
However, in general, many believe the doctor or anyone in charge of the ward should have the opportunity to explain to the patient that their remarks are not appreciated or disagree with them, doctors of color shouldn't have to endure it, and if a Caucasian doctor stays silent, their silence may be misconstrued as their agreement by both BIPOC patients and their fellow doctors. Moreover, remaining silent may be interpreted by racists as a tactic to gain acceptance for their views.
The unjust treatment of patients and doctors of color is a bigger problem than it may seem, it not only deteriorates the mortality rate of people of color, it also prevents them from excelling in their respective fields. Physicians of color deserve the same respect as anyone else; similarly, patients deserve to be treated without their race getting in the way of receiving quality healthcare. We live in the twenty-first century, and it is about time we stopped discriminating against humans based on their skin color, ethnicity, or religion.
Written by Sanskriti Kundra
Illustrated by Disha Kariwal