Treating the Individual: How Health Care Providers and Black Americans Can Escape the Statistics

Unfortunately, Black Americans are usually on the unfavorable end of health outcomes and statistics. This is attributed to a multitude of reasons, including social conditions, cultural behaviors, inequity in health care and education access, environmental issues and more. However, it’s important that Black Americans are not defined by these statistics, and that health care providers don’t allow these statistics to dictate the quality of care they provide.

Greg Braylock, Jr., vice president, talent and organizational effectiveness and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at ProMedica, shares his experiences as a patient:

At least half of my health care encounters have included the phrase, “Well, Black people are more likely to… fill in the blank.” While these statistics may be factual, why they might or might not apply to me beyond skin color is rarely explained.

The population level data doesn’t address the nuances of who I am, what’s actually happening in my body and environment, my specific concerns, my health journey or my motivations. It can feel as though people are using data that they know about a population to educate and treat me, as opposed to what they actually understand about me as an individual.

Both health care providers and health care consumers can take action to challenge this status quo.

How Health Care Providers Can Care for the Individual

If you’re a health care provider, take a moment to think about your recent patient encounters.

Do you:

  • Listen to and understand personal health and social information, concerns and desires before jumping to decisions and solutions based on a person’s race or other demographics?
  • Explain why the risk factors are, or are not, influential in their situation?
  • Share why the recommended treatment or intervention might be more effective than other options, given the full picture of the patient’s life?

As health care providers, we are knowledgeable about population-level data and trends. While this information is valuable, we should consider if our knowledge of these figures is balanced with listening to and understanding the individual so that we develop an effective and targeted solution with them.

“Too often I see patients who may not have certain comorbidities, but because they’re Black, they’re automatically put in that bucket,” shares Lamar Goodwin, nursing director at ProMedica Toledo Hospital. “It’s imperative that we look at the overall picture of health instead of race-based prescribing.”

Not only can this approach lead to misdiagnosis or ineffective interventions, but it can also cause our patients to doubt if they can impact their health.

Braylock adds, “Many of my family and friends describe feeling profiled or put into a health status box that is not them. Some then suppose there is nothing they can do to change or escape the statistic or profile. In the absence of more information and support, they accept an avoidable fate rather than being supported in their exploration of other paths to improved health.”

While population health data is valuable and should be used, information and experiences of the person are just as valuable to consider. Challenging yourself to listen, ask questions and understand the individual, will create greater trust with the patient and improve the quality of information used to diagnose and treat.

How Health Care Consumers Can Advocate for Themselves

As a health care consumer, remember that you are at the center of your care. This is especially important for Black Americans, who may not always feel that way in the health care system. No matter your situation, there’s always an opportunity to challenge the status quo, even if it starts with a doctor’s visit.

“Go into your appointment prepared with questions. If you’re given information that doesn’t sit right with you, ask more questions,” shares Traci Watkins, MD, family medicine provider at ProMedica Physicians Westgate Family Medicine.

Regardless of your race, family history and background, there are always things you can do to reduce your risk of developing health conditions. Find a health care provider that you trust to help you along your health journey.

“If you are going down a dangerous path for your health, it’s my job to try to motivate you to change so you don’t become part of the statistic,” Dr. Watkins shares.

Take preventive measures by eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly and seeing your provider for yearly well visits. Escape the statistics by taking charge of your own health care today.