America only grows more multicultural by the day. The country is now a melting pot of various races, beliefs, and sexual orientations. Within a single work shift, a healthcare professional can end up working with a diverse group of patients and co-workers, from different parts of society or corners of the globe. Though healthcare has grown more diverse, discrimination continues to be a plague that has beset the industry. Without proper acknowledgement and direct action, countless patients will continue to suffer its consequences.
What Is Discrimination?
The American Psychological Association refers to discrimination as “unfair or preferential treatment of people or groups based on characteristics such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, sex, or orientation.” Within the realm of healthcare, it takes different shapes and manifests in different forms. Discrimination mainly takes on two forms: macroaggressions that are obvious and blatant. This includes insults directed at a patient or co-worker characteristics, outright physical abuse, and other problems within these lines. In more recent years, these forms of discrimination have toned down over time, but they still occur from time to time.
Microaggressions are less obvious but more insidious. This refers to subtle insults or snubs that are not immediately perceptible but are discriminatory in nature. They can be verbal or non-verbal and are hard to spot at first glance. An example of this would be addressing a gay co-worker as “one of the good ones.” It is not immediately apparent, but there is an undercurrent of hostility and resentment towards the LGBT+ community. “Complimenting” a foreign co-worker for their “surprisingly good English” is another good example. Though not as blatant as macroaggressions, their effects still add up. Research has found that microaggressions can lead to an increased risk of stress, hypertension and diabetes among victims.
How Does Discrimination in Healthcare Manifest?
Discrimination in healthcare does not just take place in one-on-one interactions. It has tangible effects on minorities’ access to healthcare and can cause widespread damage to entire communities. The University Of Michigan once found that 1 in 5 patients has experienced some form of discrimination, in the healthcare industry. Race was the most common underlying motivator, along with sex, gender, age, and education. Some LGBT+ people are completely withheld from access to healthcare, primarily because of their orientation. For example: one HIV patient mentioned that they had sex with men. As a result, they were completely denied access to HIV medications.
Even when they manage to gain access to healthcare, discriminatory mindsets can lead to disastrous consequences. A study found that a number of misguided beliefs regarding the physical differences between black people and white people lead to more inaccurate diagnoses and costly mistreatments. In particular, the unfounded belief that black people “have more pain tolerance than white people” has led to countless improper medical recommendations. With this in mind, it is no wonder that African Americans have less trust in the healthcare system, on the whole.
These are just a couple of examples of discrimination affecting the quality of healthcare. People of certain ages, genders, races, and orientations have plenty of discriminatory experiences in healthcare facilities.
How Can This Be Addressed?
Discrimination in healthcare is a multifaceted issue. It affects a diverse list of people and groups and cannot be eradicated overnight. Effectively tackling this issue requires a huge amount of investment and attention from facilities, in order to effectively address the issue. Proper diversity education and training programs are one way to promote values of tolerance and acceptance. These programs should educate HCPs on the existence of discrimination, how to recognize it, and how they should react to microaggressions and macroaggressions when confronted with them.
A well-developed reporting system that allows patients and HCPs to bring attention to discriminatory experiences can also empower minorities while dissuading people from bigoted behavior. This should also be complimented with a strict, no-tolerance policy towards various forms of discrimination. Finally, facilities should assist efforts to research discrimination in healthcare. This primarily comes in the form of additional funding and support.
The most effective way to combat discrimination is sweeping reform, on the part of government bodies. Equitable access to healthcare and legal checks and balances will be the most effective deterrents to racism, sexism, ageism and more. Until then, however, facilities must do everything in their power to help however they can.