Racial disparities in health care affect literally the first hours of a black child’s life, according to researchers who looked at over 2 decades of data.
A study performed by George Mason University looked at data for 1.8 million hospital births in Florida between 1992 and 2015 and was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, known as PNAS.
Disparities in Newborn Mortality
In their study, the researchers found that when Black newborns were cared for by White physicians, they were about three times more likely to die in the hospital than White newborns. By contrast, there is no such disparity in mortality when it comes to White newborns.
While infant mortality has largely fallen in recent decades, Black newborns are still significantly more likely to die early than White newborns. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, Black infants have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as White infants. The CDC looked at the period from 2000 to 2017 and found that Black infants have more than twice the risk of dying as White infants.
As evidence of the finding that Black physicians outperform White physicians when caring for Black newborns, the study found that the effects of race on infant mortality are more pronounced in more complicated cases and when hospitals deliver more Black newborns.
The authors didn’t pin these results on a specific cause, but did recommend that health care organizations explore ways to reduce this evidence of bias. Additionally, the authors advised that “Reducing racial disparities in newborn mortality will also require raising awareness among physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators about the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities.”
The Big Picture
This provides further evidence that health professionals can positively impact outcomes if they can understand how biases affect care delivery and eventual outcomes. We should all want our physicians to not just know what treatments we need, but what biases may affect our treatment and care. And with further coordination of care across various teams, it’s critical that different professionals understand the big picture.
We can’t reduce the inequities in healthcare if we don’t educate ourselves and our providers on the biases that may affect care. The better we study, analyze, and mediate evidence of bias, the closer we get to better medicine.
“Physician–patient racial concordance and disparities in birthing mortality for newborns.” Brad N. Greenwood, Rachel R. Hardeman, Laura Huang, Aaron Sojourner. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Aug 2020, 201913405.