A panel of health professionals discusses racial bias in healthcare and medicine. The panel was part of the University of Utah’s Freedom Day summit on Wednesday. (Ashley Fred, KSL.com)
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SALT LAKE CITY – His grandmother’s diagnosis of bladder cancer and her death prompted Dr. Richard Ferguson to seek medical attention.
Ferguson’s grandmother has “smoked endlessly since she was a teenager,” but her grandson believes her death is completely preventable.
“I wanted to prevent other black women like my grandmother from suffering and suffering a painful death from bladder cancer or other preventable diseases,” said Ferguson, chief medical officer of Health Choice Utah.
Ferguson shared his grandmother’s story as a participant in the June 16 Freedom Day summit at the University of Utah. The discussion was attended by health professionals and educators from various backgrounds, who shared that they believe racial bias is found in healthcare, medicine and research.
Like Ferguson, everyone shared what led them to get involved in community health and tackle racial inequalities. Many spoke of witnessing attempts by family members to navigate the health care system or treatment within the system.
Dr Yvette Lopez, director of health education centers in the Utah region, described the death of her uncle in Puerto Rico at the start of the HIV epidemic as an entry into public health. Another participant, Dr. Clifton Sanders, said his involvement at the intersection of health differences and medicine came after his wife’s death.
“Two years ago, in October, I lost my wife to complications from systemic scleroderma, and, horribly, it turns out that women of African descent are at least twice as likely to get systemic scleroderma than women in other groups,” Sanders said. Vice Rector for Academic Affairs at Salt Lake Community College.
Prior to complications from systemic sclerosis, his wife struggled with hepatitis C, which at the time was being treated with a much lower success rate for black women. The previous lack of research revealing the genetic link between black women and complications from various diseases underscores the racial bias that may be present in the research.
“Most questions are framed by who’s there, and if we’re not there, the questions that interest us may not be framed at all,” Sanders said. “When you’re diagnosed and people try to make data-based decisions, if you’re not part of that database … it’s a risk.
Many panelists pointed to better representation in various areas to improve racial bias in health, medicine and research. Increasing the number of health professionals from different backgrounds, integrating community health workers into the system and exposing students to patients from different backgrounds were cited as panel decisions.
Intertwined with representation was the need for education, panelists said.
“When you think of the Juneteenth and what we celebrate, it’s really an acknowledgment of the lack of communication and information about the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Athanasius Thomas Johnson, senior vice president and chief executive of diversity at the American Cancer Society. “We are still in a situation where black and brown communities are not getting the information they need to have health justice – to have access to resources and services that other populations benefit from.”
Health differences between different racial groups were particularly pronounced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccination rates among Latin American and black communities are struggling, even as health organizations mobilize efforts with community health workers. Fear has caused hesitation in the vaccine area, panelists said.
“One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t turn to him and / or gain trust if you don’t acknowledge people’s fears. You can’t embarrass them to make that decision; it will often cause people to shut up from you, to shut up, ”Sanders said.
Understanding fears or perspectives arising from historical events can help boost trust in health professionals, the panel added.
“It’s part of the workforce, recognizes the historical trauma these communities have suffered, and then also uses trusted envoys to help build trust in communities and share information that will in many cases be life-saving for those communities.” communities, “said Thomas. Johnson.
Increasing representation and education among health professionals and health care systems are just two ways to start tackling racial bias. Other solutions identified by panelists include increasing access to insurance and health care, integrating cultural and language translators into patient care, and educating communities on how to advocate for themselves in the system.
“I think we need to start by recognizing that health systems can’t handle this on their own,” Ferguson said. “They themselves cannot undo the systemic effects of racism in health care at the moment. It will make laws, just as racism has often been codified for decades.”