From race to age, 1 in 5 patients say they face discrimination from doctors, hospitals

Patient centered
Patients reported discrimination based on factors from race to weight.

Almost 1 in 5 patients report they have faced some kind of discrimination in their dealings with doctors and hospitals, according to a large national survey.

Blacks were most likely to name race as the cause of discrimination, while whites said they were discriminated against based on age, weight or income, according to researchers from the University of California San Francisco, Stanford University and UC Berkeley.

The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, analyzed responses from 13,897 participants in the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study who were 54 or older and had at least one chronic condition. All the groups in the study, which included blacks, whites and Hispanics, reported high rates of discrimination for various reasons.


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“If people believe they have received unfair treatment in the healthcare setting, that experience could negatively affect their experience with their providers, their willingness to go to their providers and their adherence with their treatment, and thereby affect their health. It’s still very common, and there’s a long way to go,” Thu Nguyen, UCSF researcher and the study’s first author, said in an announcement about the study.

The researchers analyzed data reporting on patient experiences between 2008 and 2014. The good news? The analysis found that discrimination reported by black patients declined significantly in those six years. But black patients cited racial discrimination as the most common reason for receiving poor service or treatment from doctors and hospitals.

The survey asked about race or ancestry, as well as discrimination based on gender, age, religion, weight or physical appearance, physical disability, sexual orientation and financial status.

In 2008, 27% of black patients reported discrimination. The top three reasons for discrimination were on the basis of race or ancestry (48%), age (29%) and financial status (20%). That same year among white patients, the top reasons for reported discrimination were age (29%), weight/physical appearance (16%), gender (10%) and financial status (10%).

The types of discrimination that Hispanic patients reported most often in 2008 were age (27%), race or ancestry (23%), weight/physical appearance (14%) and financial status (14%).

The researchers urged the continued monitoring of patients’ experiences, since reported discrimination is associated with worse health, lower satisfaction with healthcare and lower use of health services.

A series of studies this year found societal issues in the U.S., including systemic racism, poverty and mass incarceration, contribute to health inequity. Those factors make it harder for minorities and the poor to access healthcare.

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