OPINION: A Doctor Calls For Body Cams After Alleging Racism In Medical Field

In an op-ed for the Boston Globe, Yale doctor Amanda Joy Calhoun calls for doctors to be outfitted with body cameras similar to those police officers wear. As Calhoun writes, “Many times, I wished the anti-Black responses I experienced in hospital settings were recorded. Body cameras record the actions and behaviors of police in real time, which can be accessed during police violence investigations. Body camera footage is linked to reduced police brutality, and cameras in schools are effective against bullying. Monitoring the actions of individuals can result in self-checking behavior. If we want to see a reduction in poor health outcomes for Black patients, we must hold health care professionals accountable in real time.”

Calhoun recalls an episode where her mother, who is also a healthcare professional, was not taken seriously by the nurses at a local hospital when she suggested Calhoun’s sister was having an allergic reaction. That anecdote is coupled with others to frame Calhoun’s argument that if the public had access to the footage, it could be determined that evidence of mistreatment of Black patients could potentially lead to doctors losing their licenses for racist attitudes and treatment. 

There are, of course, some limitations to this argument. Calhoun acknowledges that body cameras worn by the police have not kept them from killing Black people such as Tyre Nichols. Additionally, medical malpractice lawsuits are time-consuming and require a lot of evidence, and doctors still manage to win them at a 50% rate. Medical negligence is easier to prove, but doctors who have racist attitudes and actions can still keep their licenses and keep treating patients according to their beliefs.

Over the last few years, there has been an increased emphasis on medical racism and what those attitudes lead to. Even those with money, fame, and power on their side have not been immune. Tennis superstar Serena Williams was forced to advocate for her own life after her nurses initially dismissed her calls for a heparin drip. Williams connected her experience to the larger problem, as she wrote in Elle: “In the U.S., Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during or after childbirth than their white counterparts. Many of these deaths are considered by experts to be preventable. Being heard and appropriately treated was the difference between life or death for me; I know those statistics would be different if the medical establishment listened to every Black woman’s experience.”

According to a 2022 academic paper titled “Structural Racism In Historical And Modern US History,” the COVID-19 pandemic revealed just how much inequality is baked into the American healthcare system. The paper, however, goes beyond the attitudes and beliefs of individual doctors and ascribes the conditions to a lack of concern about how medical policy affects the lives of Americans. “The time has come to eradicate the structural racism in health care policy that perpetuates inequitable access to high-quality health care,” it read. “If not, the racial and ethnic inequities that have occurred throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only devastate minority communities but also harm the entire country, will continue. Yet this change will only come from intentional and sustained focus on addressing inequities in system reform so that health equity becomes the norm.”

Much like the criminal justice system, eliminating the structural racism that is present within every step of the healthcare system has generally not been a priority. Until that is the case, doctors wearing body cams will amount to putting a Band-Aid on a festering wound. The system itself is designed to create inequitable outcomes; individual doctors who treat patients like they don’t matter is just a symptom of a broader disease. While body cams might help in the short term, in the long run, the more effective course of action is eliminating the structural racism present in the entire system.

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