Episode 5: Challenging Healthcare Inequity

 

Dr. Quincy Byrdsong shares three key strategies healthcare professionals can use to address racial and gender inequity.

It’s widely known that Black Americans are treated differently when receiving healthcare, but that inequity has roots that extend far beyond the doctor’s office and into the very foundations of our healthcare system.

In the final episode of season one of The Untold Stories of American Healthcare, host Ryann Petit-Frere talks with Dr. Quincy Byrdsong, Vice Provost for Health Affairs at Lipscomb University, about how our education system contributes to inequity. He also shares some practical steps healthcare professionals can take to foster change across the industry.

 

Factors Contributing to Healthcare Inequity

When trying to understand and address healthcare inequities, Dr. Byrdsong believes we should start by examining the education healthcare workers receive.

“Traditional health sciences education is based on the concept of the ideal human. We see that in the high fidelity simulators that we use to train health science students, and we even see it in the standardized patients that we employ,” he explained. “This becomes problematic when the ideal patient is always the same race, always the same gender, always the same body type.”

This lack of diversity in the classroom can directly impact healthcare outcomes, Byrdsong argued. For example, rashes or discoloration show up differently on different skin tones, so if all simulations are based on white skin, then a clinician may not know how to recognize those conditions when caring for a Black patient.

Additionally, there’s a lack of research around how different health conditions affect women or people of color.

“Fifty to 60 years ago, the people that determined the research agenda basically looked at conditions that affected their demographic,” Byrdsong shared. “If everyone’s male, then the research agenda is going to be things that help males. If the agenda is helped by a certain racial demographic, then that’s where the research is going to be done.”

These academic gaps play into other factors, like bias and lack of trust between clinicians and patients. For example, many people assume that people of color are less intelligent and women are overly sensitive. As a result, clinicians might not believe those patients when they try to describe their symptoms.

 

Building a More Equitable System

In spite of these problems, Byrdsong feels optimistic that healthcare professionals can work together to tackle inequity head on.

“You will not find anyone more encouraged than me as it relates to the future of healthcare for everyone. And you will not find anyone more encouraged than me that we can begin to really reduce and ultimately eliminate health inequities,” he shared. “We have a pretty good idea of sort of the stem, the foundation, the genesis of some of these things, and that’s why I’m encouraged that we’ll be able to address them.”

To make this happen, he believes the most important first step is acknowledging that the gaps in care exist. Once people have done that, he outlined three key areas where the industry can come together to address the problem.

First, he stressed the importance of clear, agreed-upon definitions for terms like equity, health disparity and unconscious bias.

Second, he encouraged people to continue the dialogue about inequity and about possible solutions.

Finally, Byrdsong shared examples of some deliverables that would represent a step in the right direction, such as more diversity in clinical trials and better health outcomes for women and people of color.

“But I also want to challenge the listeners to come up with some more qualitative deliverables,” he shared. “As healthcare professionals, we don’t just make people physically healthy, we give people hope… that has to be part of the deliverable conversation as well. It can’t just be about the numbers, it has to be about how people feel, how people are empowered.”

 

To learn more about the Nashville Health Care Council and follow along on our journey through the Untold Stories of American Healthcare, visit healthcarecouncil.com. And be sure to subscribe, rate and review this show wherever you get your podcasts.