Experts Weigh in on How Black Women Can Navigate the Healthcare System

Navigating the healthcare system can be challenging for anyone. It can be particularly difficult for Black women due to systemic racism and implicit bias. Because of the gaping underrepresentation of Black and brown medical professionals, Black women often experience discrimination and mistreatment within the healthcare ecosystem. This leads to poor health outcomes and a lack of trust in medical professionals. However, there are ways Black women can navigate the healthcare system and ensure they receive the care and treatment they need.

Find a Trustworthy Doctor

The first step in navigating the healthcare system is finding a trustworthy doctor. This can be a challenge. Not all doctors are trained to recognize and address the unique healthcare needs of Black women. However, finding a doctor who listens to you, takes your concerns seriously, and respects your beliefs and values is essential. You should not hesitate to switch doctors if you are uncomfortable with your current provider.

Adapt a Holistic Approach

Many factors contribute to a healthy pregnancy. Historically, the medical system has often not done a thorough job of explaining that. Beth Ann Clayton, is American Association of Anesthesiology expert and Nurse Anesthesia Program Director for the University of Cincinnati (UC). She says a holistic approach is necessary.

“To navigate structural racism and bias, Black mothers and their healthcare providers should take a holistic approach to the mother’s pregnancy and postpartum care, keeping in mind any underlying medical conditions and family history that may affect birth,” said Clayton. “This all starts with trust between the care team and mother, as well as standardized protocols in how we as healthcare professionals care for our patients.”

Advocate For Yourself

It can get intimidating to speak up in the presence of medical professionals. For some, it may feel those in the medical field have the “upper hand” in a situation as they are more knowledgable about certain issues. It is important to advocate for yourself despite any discomfort or insecurity. Clayton says doing so can make or break your healthcare prospects.

“From my perspective, it is first and foremost the responsibility of the healthcare provider to support Black women in navigating the healthcare system and providing them the knowledge and care they need,” said Clayton. Though the healthcare system is working to address systemic barriers, I encourage my Black patients to stay informed, advocate for themselves, ask questions to their healthcare provider, and speak up when they feel their voice isn’t being heard.”

Photo credit: Mikhail Nilov
Photo credit: Mikhail Nilov

Do Your Research

To combat the racial and bias-related barriers present in many healthcare settings, it is essential to conduct research before seeking medical attention. Several studies have shown that Black women are more likely to experience racism and bias in healthcare settings. These covert or overt displays of discrimination can lead to misdiagnosis, inadequate treatment, and a lack of access to necessary healthcare services.

Dr. Megan Pickens, CEO of The Volition Collective, says medical bias is dangerous.

“The US healthcare system is rooted in systemic racism and the false belief that you, as a Black woman, can take more pain, based on barbaric research,” said Pickens. “Before you commit to a medical facility, do your research, and also research medical professionals you may have to deal with. Check their reviews, and look for license violations and board complaints.”

Pickens also encourages Black women to be assertive when they have a gut feeling that something is wrong.

“Stand your ground when asking for care. If you have a symptom that concerns you, ask for a referral, in-network, or the testing you need. If your doctor often overlooks your legitimate concerns, change your doctor.”

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