On this episode of the Patients Rising podcast, Terry and Bob discuss how the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the racial disparities that plague the American healthcare system. They explain how this racial care gap must be closed, so everyone can get the treatment they need to defeat this disease. This issue has taken on renewed significance as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging again in many places in the country. 

As the Centers for Disease Control explains, “Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some members of racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age. 

Indeed, Covid-19 hospitalization rates among minorities are significantly higher than their white counterparts. African- and Native-Americans have hospitalization rates that are roughly five times greater than white people. And Latinos have a hospitalization rate four times greater than white people.

Terry and Bob explain how policies that attempt to squeeze costs out of the healthcare system by limiting access have had a disproportionate impact on the elderly and minorities. This approach must be reversed to address racial healthcare disparities. 

Government officials and political commentators generally attribute this racial health gap to three main factors: living conditions, work circumstances, and health circumstances. 

Minorities tend to live in denser housing where viruses can spread more easily. They are also more likely to live in multigenerational homes where it can be more difficult to protect the elderly from infection. 

Minorities are also more likely to work at “essential” jobs where they come into contact with more people who could be infected on a daily basis. They are also less likely to have sick leave, so they sometimes have to keep working while ill. 

As patient advocate Heather Stewart discusses on the podcast, minorities are also more likely to suffer from racism in the healthcare system. She recounts her story of doctors not taking her many chronic conditions seriously. In another patient story on the podcast, “Brian” explains how a lack of Spanish speakers in the healthcare system makes the system more difficult to navigate for Latinos. Minorities also have higher rates of chronic conditions than their white counterparts.   

Bob interviews Frank L. Douglas, M.D., Ph.D. an award-winning and longtime veteran in the field of healthcare and pharmaceuticals, who has experienced racism and the health disparities in American healthcare first-hand. Dr. Douglas recounts how he faced institutional racism when he worked at MIT and in leadership positions in the pharmaceutical industry. 

He learned that he couldn’t just stay quiet in the face of racism but had to fight back. He champions a patient- and community-centric approach to healthcare called value-driven engineering to reduce racial health disparities.

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