Harvard Health Publishing’s contributing editor recently shared a story from one of her patients. The middle-aged, churchgoing woman with a painful health condition visited an emergency department and requested treatment for her pain. She had no history of drug abuse. But ER staff gave her no help: “They treated me like I was trying to play them, like I was just trying to get pain meds out of them. They didn’t try to make any diagnosis or help me at all. They couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.”
The only thing this woman could conclude was that it was because she was black.
Imagine what would have happened if she had a serious medical emergency right after leaving the ER, and suffered damage or death because of it. Those doctors and nurses would have been directly responsible because they did not treat her appropriately when she came to them for help, thus breaching their duty to care for all patients—black, white, Hispanic, Asian, men, women, children, pregnant, overweight, low-income, etc.
The University of Texas recently highlighted the issue on the Humanities Institute’s official blog, which is well worth a read. Discrimination may be subtle or overt, but what makes this grotesque behavior worse is the fact that it often leads to serious and completely avoidable medical errors that can cost patients their lives.
Discrimination Against People of Color
For decades, research has shown that minority groups such as African-Americans and Latinos experience more illness and premature death compared to white people in the United States. While efforts have been undertaken and laws have been passed to try to offset this, the reality remains: people of color, as a whole, receive less effective medical treatment than people who are white in this country. Discrimination happens in many different ways, often subconsciously, but the result is that people in minority groups have their illnesses go untreated, do not receive proper pain management, and live shorter lives. A 2016 study showed that even in medical school, certain deep-seated racial misbeliefs caused harm to patients. “This study revealed that black patients frequently receive a treatment plan that fails to help manage pain, as medical professionals tend to perceive black patients as having a higher tolerance for pain.”
In general, African-American men live an average of six years less than white men in the U.S. and have shorter lifespans than men in Chile or Jamaica. African-American women live, on average, four years less than white women. Even when economic factors are put aside, it seems racism still comes into play. Middle-class African-Americans live ten years less than middle-class white people in the U.S., whereas low-income white people live only three years longer than African-Americans of similar income. ((Income discrimination is also wrong when it comes to healthcare.)
Maternity rates are particularly disturbing for women of color in the United States. African-American women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than white women; their infants are two to three times more likely to be born premature or underweight; and African-American infants are twice as likely to die in their first year of life compared to white infants. Native Americans and some Latina groups also have higher rates of maternal death and infant mortality.
Even famous women of color like Serena Williams have reported situations where their issues and concerns were marginalized or ignored by doctors. This is not only unacceptable, but costs innocent lives every year through malpractice that is completely preventable.
Discrimination Against Women
Institutional sexism is also a huge problem within the medical industry. Women were forgotten or ignored as patients for more than a century, and this problem has not gone completely away. Federal laws in the 1990s began mandating that women be included in drug trials after studies on things like heart disease would involve tens of thousands of men but no women. Yet women continue to be underrepresented in research and their needs are often ignored by medical professionals. In our current day and age, women are more likely to suffer a misdiagnosis when it comes to heart problems, because their symptoms are so disparate from a man’s.
Taking Action Against Medical Discrimination
Physicians who discriminate against their patients—even if they do so unintentionally—can be held responsible through a medical malpractice lawsuit if a patient is injured by their neglect.
Unfortunately, by the time patients realize they have been discriminated against, they are often so exhausted by medical tests and procedures that they lack the energy to file a claim against their doctor. Such fatigue is understandable, but it allows the perpetrators to get away with their behavior and continue the cycle.
Errors caused by medical discrimination are usually preventable, and another doctor can testify to how a situation should have been handled but was not. This can make for a strong malpractice case against a doctor who discriminates against patients due to race, gender, size, income level, or any other factor.
These kinds of cases require a great deal of time and expertise to see through, which is why you should speak to a lawyer if you suspect discrimination was a factor in your poor medical care. The Law Office of WT Johnson has taken on many challenging cases and won, and we believe in our ability to get you justice. Please call (214) 231-0544 for a free consultation with an experienced Dallas medical malpractice attorney.