National Institute on Aging

Black Patients Change Their Appearance and Behavior to Avoid Bias by Healthcare Providers

A new study by the California Health Foundation finds that many Black Californians report adjusting their appearance or behavior — even minimizing questions — all to reduce the chances of discrimination and bias in hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices.

The study found that 32 percent of Black Californians pay special attention to how they dress and 35 percent modify their speech or behavior to put doctors at ease. And 41 percent of Black patients signal to providers that they are educated, knowledgeable, and prepared. One-third of Black patients report bringing a companion into the exam room to observe and advocate for them. And, the study found, more than a quarter of Black Californians avoid medical care simply because they believe they will be treated unfairly.

Nearly one in three Black Californians has been treated unfairly by a healthcare provider because of their race or ethnicity. This experience is most common among Black Californians with mental health conditions. A significant number of Black Californians overall (38 percent) and of Black women in particular (47 percent), say there has been a time when a healthcare provider did not treat their pain adequately.

The full study, “Listening to Black Californians: How the Health Care System Undermines Their Pursuit of Good Health,” may be found here.

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