Black parents, children more likely to report discrimination in healthcare settings, Urban Institute finds

Black parents and their children are at greater risk of experiencing unfair treatment in healthcare settings than those of other races and ethnicities, according to survey results collected in a new study from Urban Institute.

The study, which used national data from the June 2022 round of the Urban Institute Health Reform Monitoring Survey, found more than 1 in 5 Black parents reported they were treated or judged unfairly in healthcare settings in the past year, compared to about 1 in 8 parents overall. The survey reached more than 9,490 adults, including nearly 3,000 parents of children under the age of 19.

Black parents (9%) were also more likely than other parents (3%) to report that any of their children were treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity, country of origin or primary language, Urban Institute found. 

“Prior experiences with unfair treatment in health care settings and anticipation of unfair treatment in future encounters could create long-lasting adverse consequences for children and their parents,” researchers wrote in a brief describing their analysis. “Changes in the health care system will be required to provide high-quality, respectful, culturally effective and evidence-based care to all children and their parents, including Black parents and parents of color.”

More than 70% of parents who experienced unfair treatment reported disruptions in their care, including looking for a new provider, delaying or not getting treatment and not following the provider’s recommendations. Nearly half of those who experienced unfair treatment looked for a new provider or delayed treatment.

Additionally, the study found that 40% of Black parents and 30% of Hispanic parents reported being concerned they or a relative will be treated or judged unfairly in healthcare settings in the future because of their race, ethnicity or primary language.

Disparities in treatment in the healthcare setting have long persisted, with other surveys finding Black patients adjust their behavior to reduce the chance of discrimination in healthcare settings. That includes paying special attention to how they dress, modifying their speech or behavior, signaling to providers they are educated and minimizing questions. Studies also show that Black parents’ experience of racism is linked to higher rates of depression in their children. 

The consequences of not addressing historic distrust in the healthcare system can affect childbirth, childhood vaccination and the care of patients with HIV, cancer and substance use disorder.