11 Statistics That Show Racism Is Entrenched in Our Healthcare System

Covid-19 is disproportionately harming Black Americans. This is not an exception, but the rule.

Dayton Martindale July 17, 2020

Healthcare workers attend a Black Lives Matter rally in front of Bellevue Hospital on June 4 in New York City. (Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)

It has been wide­ly report­ed by now that Covid-19 has raged through com­mu­ni­ties of col­or with par­tic­u­lar vio­lence. Near­ly one in four Covid-relat­ed deaths have been Black Amer­i­cans, more than twice the rate of white Covid-19 deaths; 31% of Black Amer­i­cans know some­one who has died, com­pared to 9% of whites.

This stark divide is noth­ing new. At every lev­el, this coun­try has long failed the health of its most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents. Black Amer­i­cans face worse air pol­lu­tion and greater food inse­cu­ri­ty, are less like­ly to be insured, and in many cas­es are less like­ly to be pre­scribed or referred to nec­es­sary treat­ment. The con­stant stress­es of racism increas­es allo­sta­t­ic load, a mea­sure of wear and tear on the body that increas­es like­li­hood of high blood pres­sure, dia­betes-relat­ed deaths and oth­er health issues. And giv­en the his­to­ry of abuse by doc­tors and researchers, there is a jus­ti­fied lack of trust in the med­ical establishment.

All of this means that Black Amer­i­cans face dis­pro­por­tion­ate harm from near­ly every major med­ical issue — the coronavirus’s impact is not an excep­tion, but the rule. The fol­low­ing num­bers offer a snap­shot of these harms and their caus­es, evi­dence that rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions in the health­care sys­tem are need­ed to tru­ly make Black lives matter.

  • 14% of sec­ond-year med stu­dents (wrong­ly) believe Black peo­ple have less sen­si­tive nerve end­ings than white people
  • 47% of the time, U.S. physi­cians under­es­ti­mate the pain lev­els of Black patients, com­pared to 33.5% for white patients
  • 13% of U.S. res­i­dents are Black
  • 5% of U.S. physi­cians are Black
  • 19% reduc­tion in the Black-white dis­par­i­ty in men’s car­dio­vas­cu­lar mor­tal­i­ty could be achieved if more doc­tors were Black
  • 25% of Black Amer­i­cans live in an area with a short­age of pri­ma­ry care physicians
  • 243% more often than white women, Black women die from preg­nan­cy or childbirth
  • 16 more min­utes, on aver­age, are spent in the ER wait­ing room by a Black per­son, com­pared with a white person 
  • 200,000,000 patients have been screened by med­ical cen­ters using com­mer­cial algo­rithms to pre­dict the need for fol­low-up care
  • 18% of those auto­mat­i­cal­ly referred for extra care by one such algo­rithm were Black
  • 47% of the patients who should have been flagged for extra care were Black, which the algo­rithm missed due to racial bias 

Day­ton Mar­tin­dale is a free­lance writer and for­mer asso­ciate edi­tor at In These Times. His work has also appeared in Boston Review, Earth Island Jour­nal, Har­bin­ger and The Next Sys­tem Project. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @DaytonRMartind.

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