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Are racial disparities in medical care a problem?

On Behalf of | Feb 1, 2024 | Regulatory & Other Items

All Illinois residents deserve the best possible health care, regardless of race or ethnicity. However, the reality is that there are significant gaps in the quality and safety of health care for racial and ethnic minorities. These gaps can lead to worse health outcomes and increased risks of being harmed by medical errors.

Medical errors are instances where a healthcare provider fails to follow the standard of care and causes harm to a patient. A study by Harvard Medical Practice found that hospitals serving more minority patients had higher rates of repeated medical errors than hospitals that serve fewer ones. These errors and omissions can result in medical malpractice lawsuits.

What causes racial disparities in health care?

Many factors contribute to the unequal treatment of minorities in the health care system, such as:

  • Insurance status. Minorities are more likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanic whites, which limits their access to quality health care. Uninsured patients often receive fewer services, have lower chances of being admitted to the hospital, and have higher mortality rates.
  • Provider bias and discrimination. Health care providers may have conscious or unconscious biases that affect how they treat minority patients. For example, some providers may believe that minority patients are less intelligent, less cooperative, or more likely to abuse drugs.
  • Cultural and language barriers. Minorities may have difficulties communicating with health care providers due to differences in language or culture. These barriers can result in misunderstandings, wrong diagnoses, or missed opportunities for preventive care.

How should racial disparities in health care be addressed?

Racial disparities in health care are not only a matter of health but also a matter of justice. Minorities have the right to receive equal and quality health care and protection from medical errors. Health care providers require awareness of their biases and how they affect their decisions and behaviors.