Lori Breaux-Mitchell

 Lori Breaux-Mitchell

It has been well documented that health-care disparities exist in the African-American community. 

From higher rates of chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and cancer to reduced access to health care, including preventative and mental health care, there are factors that lead to greater health-care concerns in the African-American community.

Some of the causes for the disparities include genetics, lack of economic resources, cultural beliefs and lower educational levels. 

African-Americans are less likely to have private health insurance through their employers and have higher incidences of not having insurance at all. The percentage of uninsured African Americans is almost double that of whites. 

Uninsured individuals are less likely to seek timely medical care and comply with treatment plans. Certain medications and therapies are not accessible to those without private insurance or the ability to pay out of pocket. 

When seeking medical care, Africans Americans also are less likely to have continuity in health care by a primary care provider and instead are more likely to receive care in emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. This creates greater challenges when treating chronic health conditions. It also allows for less time for patient education and preventative care.

Historically, some African Americans have had misconceptions about medical facilities, from fearing that medicine is experimental to not recognizing that preventive care is more effective than treatment once a problem occurs. Things can be made worse if health-care providers feel that patients of certain ethnicities or who receive public assistance are going to be more difficult because they will not be compliant with recommended treatment. 

These disparities can be seen in mental health care. While the rates of mental illness in African Americans are similar to those of the general population, there are differences that exist in regard to accessing mental health care services. This is partly due to a stigma associated with mental health care among African Americans. 

In addition, studies have shown that African Americans may express symptoms of emotional distress differently from other ethnic groups and this may contribute to misdiagnosis or under diagnosis. This can then be compounded by a lack of insurance coverage and availability of health-care providers.

While the effects of family history and genetics can’t often be avoided, there are environmental and lifestyle factors that can influence health. 

It is known that conditions such as diabetes, breast cancer and hypertension occur in higher numbers when a patient has a family history of these conditions. However, having access to nutritional and wellness education can lead to lifestyle changes that will improve health outcomes. Young African Americans are living with diseases that are more commonly seen at older ages in other demographics. African Americans are more likely to die at early ages from all causes.

So, we ask what can be done to reduce disparities in health care for African Americans? 

Various sectors, from the government to insurance companies, health-care professionals and community organizations, can put in place programs to promote health and reduce barriers to health care. 

Community outreach through churches, social organizations and community centers can increase awareness about prevention as well as connect patients with resources that offer assistance. Insurance companies often offer incentives for preventive care and health screenings. 

Health-care providers can educate themselves about what social, cultural and economic factors may put their patients at a higher risk. The ultimate goal is reducing health-care disparities along all races while maintaining comprehensive care to patients.

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