New Study Reveals Heightened Fear And Mistrust Of Health System in Bla

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Fear, Mistrust, Study, Black, Commuity Young Black Woman Consulting With Doctor Over Phone Regarding Medication

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A recent Pew Research Center study, based on responses from over 4,700 Black adults in September, highlighted widespread beliefs about medical mistrust within the community. Over half of the respondents believe that the healthcare system was designed to hinder the health and success of Black people living in the U.S. The findings underscore how this mistrust acts as a significant barrier to addressing current racial health disparities in the United States and the persistent concerns about the historical mistreatment of Black patients by the medical community, alongside ongoing experiences of discrimination.

According to the study, 51% of Black adults feel the healthcare system was designed to hold back Black people to a great extent or to some extent. This sentiment was more pronounced among Black women (58%) as compared to Black men (44%), particularly among younger women. Additionally, 78% of Black adults believe the notion that medical researchers experiment on Black people without their knowledge or consent, with 55% believing such experiments occur today.

“Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, a researcher behind the study. “While there’s been enormous progress in putting in systems to make sure people are treated fairly, as well as prevent inappropriate research on people without their consent, people still are distrustful, and they’re distrustful because of the way the system continues to treat people in disparate ways.”

Medical mistrust runs deep in the Black community and is rooted in a painful history of exploitation and betrayal. 

One stark example is James Marion Sims, known as the “father of modern gynecology,” who conducted agonizing experiments on enslaved Black women in the 1800s without anesthesia. Their suffering was used to develop tools and surgical techniques for women’s reproductive health. 

Henrietta Lacks, another poignant case, had her cells taken without consent during a medical procedure in 1951. These cells, known as HeLa cells, revolutionized medical research by being the first human cells to be indefinitely cultured in a laboratory, contributing to breakthroughs like the polio vaccine and cancer research.

The infamous Tuskegee Experiment inflicted lasting wounds on the community, particularly amongst Black men, starting in 1932 when the US Public Health Service, in collaboration with the Tuskegee Institute, conducted a study on untreated syphilis in 600 Black men. Without informed consent, these men were misled about receiving treatment for “bad blood” while being denied accessible penicillin by 1943, despite its availability as a standard cure for syphilis.

How do we combat medical mistrust in the Black community?

To combat medical mistrust in the Black community, several strategic approaches can be implemented. The American Heart Association noted that medical schools should mandate first-year students to undergo courses focused on social justice, race, and racism. These courses should include immersive experiences within the communities they aim to serve and foster cultural competence and understanding.

Additionally, incorporating education on national, local, and institutional histories related to race and racism into medical school curricula and continuing education programs is crucial. This ensures healthcare professionals are aware of past injustices and their ongoing impacts on healthcare disparities.

Furthermore, healthcare entities should conduct regular reviews that critically examine their operations through a lens of racial equity, asking questions such as, “How is racism manifesting within our practices and policies?” These steps collectively aim to build trust, improve patient-provider relationships, and ultimately reduce healthcare disparities in marginalized communities, the American Heart Association highlighted

But doing your own research, asking questions, listening closely to and documenting medical staff’s responses, speaking with other doctors you trust, along with having a person with you when you go the doctor, always is your own personal best defense.


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