Racial disparities still exist in healthcare today.
Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Black population is at increased risk for a variety of chronic diseases including diabetes, strokes, heart disease, cancer, and kidney disease.
Given the global pandemic, we’re all thinking more about our health and susceptibility to disease. Yet statistics show that black people develop chronic conditions such as high blood pressure younger than other ethnicities. As well, Black women are three times as likely to die of pregnancy complications than their white counterparts.
Another report that looked into the health disparities in the Black community noted that Black people were 20% more likely to report feeling significantly stressed, yet only half as likely to receive counseling. These statistics remind us that there is still a lot of work to be done.
This goes to show that there’s a lot of change needed in our health care and governing institutions. For example, equal access to health care, addressing food availability and offering cultural sensitivity training.
While we move toward these changes on an institutional level, there are things you can do on an individual level to advocate for your health.
6 ways Black patients can advocate for their health:
- Track and record your symptoms
This is as simple as writing out a list of your symptoms. Include when they started and what concerns you have regarding them. If there are factors that make them flare up, or a pattern you notice with symptoms, write those down too so you’re prepared to share with a doctor.
- Get to know your family history
Let your doctor know what conditions you are at risk for by sharing your family history. For example, a family history of colon cancer is an important thing to note because the black population is at a higher risk for developing colon cancer at a younger age. Testing for and catching it early could result in a better outcome.
- Ask your own questions
Be prepared to ask your doctor questions to make the most of your appointment. Some examples include:
- Could this be something else, given my history?
- What are my treatment options?
- What kind of medications or tests are prescribed, and what are the side effects?
- What’s the plan of action?
- If referred to a specialist, should I call them, or do you call them?
- When should I follow up if I haven’t heard anything from the specialist?
- When should I follow up with you?
- Follow up with your doctor or medical professional
Part of advocating for your own health is ensuring you follow up with doctors to ensure you get notified of your results. Sometimes things fall through the cracks, especially as the medical system is overloaded during the pandemic. If you’re unsure of your results or what they mean, give your doctor’s office a call. All you have to say is: I am calling to check on my results.
- Find a physician of colour
Seek a physician of colour who will understand your concerns and the specific health challenges that affect the black population. Ideally, you want to feel like your doctor is part of your support system and acting as a member of your team. If you can’t find a physician of colour in your area, look for a doctor who’s had implicit bias and sensitivity training.
- Take education into your own hands
It’s always a good idea to learn about your body in an effort to understand your health as much as you can. Read peer reviewed journals that are relevant to your health concerns. Look at websites such as Mayo Clinic for accurate health information. The more you know about your health, the better prepared you’ll be to ask questions and advocate for the best treatments available.