Understanding The Social Impact Of Discrimination In Healthcare

Healthcare accessibility has a huge impact on many different areas of our lives.

People who have easy access to high-quality care rarely have to worry about poor health outcomes or where to go if they get sick. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.

Discrimination reaches every area of society, including our medical systems.

In the United States, healthcare discrimination and health disparities are serious problems that have far-reaching consequences.

For many people, access to healthcare is limited and has both a physical and social impact on their lives.

Social Inequalities in Health by National Institutes of Health (NIH)

How Discrimination Appears in Healthcare Settings

Discrimination is unfortunately a two-way street in hospitals and other health organizations.

Many nurses of color, for instance, have experienced patients asking for a white nurse, a common type of discrimination that affects a person’s sense of safety and satisfaction in the workplace.

Many patients also face discrimination from nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals.

They might have trouble convincing a doctor that their symptoms are real, receive substandard care, or feel unsafe due to the attitude of the staff. In some cases, this kind of discrimination can be deadly.

Distrust of Medical Staff

Discrimination often stems from implicit biases that people hold. A healthcare professional might believe stereotypes or maintain ideologies that conflict with providing equitable healthcare to all.

These beliefs are often extremely harmful in the context of caring for patients as they will effectively reduce communication to a bare minimum and cause distrust between patients and providers.

A patient who doesn’t trust their doctors and nurses to provide them with the best possible care will be stressed and uncomfortable in healthcare settings.

They are less likely to be active participants in their own care plans and may not follow any instructions they are given by their healthcare providers.

Lack of Diversity in Staffing

One of the reasons that discrimination is such a major problem in the healthcare field is that many organizations do not prioritize diversity in their hiring practices.

Even in communities with diverse populations, many facilities hire a fairly homogenous staff.

In addition to increasing the odds of discrimination toward patients and nurses, a lack of diversity can lead to more distrust among patients and healthcare staff.

Any staff who might be different from their colleagues could feel unwelcome and stressed, while patients may not be able to feel at ease if no one on their medical team can empathize with their struggles.

A provider who does not get an opportunity to work with others who have different perspectives might have trouble providing culturally competent care, which is massively important as diversity grows within the United States.

Diversity has many important benefits in a healthcare setting and must be an organizational goal to help reduce common health disparities and discrimination.

Impact on Communities

All of these factors have social impacts in addition to compromising the health and well-being of patients.

Healthcare availability and health disparities shape the culture and customs of different regions and affect the community as a whole.

Some communities have notoriously poor healthcare facilities and lack resources for not only getting high-quality healthcare but for learning about and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits.

Someone who does not have transportation or money to afford fresh fruits and vegetables or the time to exercise and meditate due to working several jobs will not be able to access the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Communities that face discrimination within the healthcare system will typically see worse health on average, leading to premature deaths and illnesses that can affect social factors like being able to earn a living wage or being able to raise children.

Over time, these problems compound and put communities at risk in many ways.

Distrust on a Large Scale – A Major Social Hurdle

It’s understandable that people who have been mistreated by the medical system would be suspicious of vaccines and other preventative treatments recommended by healthcare institutions.

This is exactly what happened when the COVID-19 vaccines became available in the United States—white people were far more likely to be vaccinated than Black Americans for these very reasons.

Historically, minorities, immigrants, the poor, LGBTQ individuals, and disabled people have continually faced discrimination and have had to cope with a system that was not made to support them.

Now, as we look ahead to the future, we must consider all the implications of discrimination, including the social impact.

Creating a more equitable system will lead to better health and well-being for all Americans, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, age, or financial position.