Physicians have long overlooked the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of BIPOC as they interface with the healthcare system. Although those that pursue careers in healthcare tend to be altruistic in nature, healthcare providers are complicit in actively perpetuating implicit bias and systemic racism when they interact with patients of color. Implicit bias against Black, Latinx, and Native American individuals has been shown to lead to worse patient-provider interactions, treatment adherence, and health outcomes.
That’s why we created Melanin Doc Connect — a platform connecting people of color to culturally competent healthcare providers.
As a Black man in medicine working through a pandemic that has disproportionately affected people that look like me in the backdrop of racial tensions across our nation, I found Dr. Lewis’ words to be particularly salient. In a tweet, she described how the tragic death of Dr. Moore was rooted in implicit bias and was a consequence of cumulative de-prioritization of Black patients at the hands of physicians.
Just last December, the hashtag #SusanMoore went viral as Dr. Moore, a family medicine physician and Black woman described how her White physician “made [her] feel like a drug addict” when he refused to prescribe her more pain medications even though he knew she was a fellow physician. On Facebook Live, she documented the inadequate care she received throughout her hospital stay. Regardless of her knowledge of navigating our healthcare system or her ability to advocate for herself as a physician, the medical recommendation she received was to “just go home”. “This is how Black people get killed, when you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves,” Moore said. Less than 3 weeks later, Dr. Susan Moore died at the age of 52 years old.
Closer to home, I recently experienced firsthand an episode where implicit bias destroyed a woman of color’s trust in the healthcare system. I recall terms like “aggressive”, “hostile”, and “loud” being used to describe one of the family members of my Black patient (Ms. G) after she inquired about why her mother had not received medication the night before. Unbeknownst to the patient or her family, there was a system-wide electronic health record shutdown the night before which created delays in medication administration. Rightfully so, the patient’s daughter demanded answers, as her mother’s condition was quickly deteriorating. Instead of acknowledging the medical error that resulted in her mother not receiving the right medication and explaining the shutdown the night before, my chief resident chose to gaslight the patient’s daughter and snarkily replied, “we’re doing our best”. As expected, voices were raised on both sides as the daughter continued to advocate for her mother’s healthcare. However, what happened next was unexpected. As the daughter walked away from the conversation to the bathroom, the senior resident decided to call law enforcement on her for being “too aggressive”, which I still understood as code for “too Black”. Moments later without a warning, the patient’s daughter, her healthcare proxy, was escorted out of the hospital by armed guards. I watched in shock as the patient weeped in utter disbelief. I had never been more embarrassed and disappointed to be a medical provider than in this moment. I was the only member of my care team to acknowledge the fact that Black people rarely have benign experiences with law enforcement and to offer Ms. G a real apology. My senior resident responded to her distress with “It’s up to you. Do you want to leave?”.
“I came here to get help, not to have my family kicked out”. “Why couldn’t y’all have just spoken to me?”, she said. Shortly after, Ms. G left the hospital against medical advice in need of serious medical interventions with her distrust of the healthcare system confirmed once again.
To increase the diversity of the physician workforce, Somto Obi (my big brother), Tochi Ajiwe, and I launched a nonprofit called Melanin Doc in 2016. Since then, we have inspired and supported the next generation of minority healthcare providers. We’re grateful to have grown a 78K+ Melanin Doc Community on social media, provided thousands of dollars in scholarships, and provided mentorship opportunities to minority students across the country. But, we need to do more. A study from the University of California Los Angeles in 2021 found that the proportion of Black physicians has only increased by 4% in the last 120 years and that the number of Black men in medicine has not changed since 1940. I am 1 of 8 Black male students, which represents 5.7% of students in my medical school class.
Minority providers cannot solve the problem of implicit bias alone. There are just not enough of us. We need more non-minority providers who intend to prioritize the health of BIPOC. There is strength in numbers and the time is now.
Melanin Doc Connect is our call to action. To achieve our goal of reducing health disparities and creating healing spaces for BIPOC, we believe healthcare providers must first acknowledge their implicit biases. Therefore, to become a verified provider on our platform, one must take an implicit bias test and pledge to prioritize health equity before listing their practice. If you are a healthcare provider who recognizes the potential impact of cultural differences on healthcare, who tailors their care delivery to meet patients’ social, cultural, and linguistic needs, or who is dedicated to reducing racial and ethnic disparities in care, we’d love to hear from you! Our hope is to be intentional about creating a healthcare system that better serves BIPOC.