About 1 in 4 Black and Latino adults aged 60 and older say they have experienced discrimination in the health care setting or have been treated unfairly by health professionals, according to a new survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund.
The organization polled close to 2,000 people aged 60 and older from March 11 to May 27, 2021, in the U.S. The New York-based organization also polled adults 65 and older in 11 high-income countries overall, including New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The survey results found older people in the U.S. are more likely to report discrimination in the health care setting compared to the other countries in the survey. In addition, a quarter of older U.S. adults say they cannot get the care they need because of discrimination.
Among adults aged 60 and older, 32 percent of respondents in the U.S. said they are discriminated against in the health care setting, followed by 17 percent of Canadians who said the same.
“Battling discrimination throughout the health care system is imperative to advancing health equity,” researchers wrote in the survey.
“Given that older adults use far more health care services than do younger people, and that the U.S. population is rapidly aging, addressing discrimination in health care settings is especially important for older adults of color,” the researchers added.
The survey results come amid an ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which early on exposed disparities in the U.S. health care system.
Communities of color were impacted at a higher rate than their white counterparts.
A March study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Black adults were hospitalized at nearly four times the rate of white adults during the peak of the omicron wave over the winter.
About 61 percent of U.S. adults who say they have experienced discrimination in the Commonwealth Fund poll were Black or Latino. And nearly half of them reported being in fair or poor health, twice the rate of those who say they are not discriminated against.
Those who said they were discriminated against reported poor interactions with health care providers, including instances where their provider dismissed their symptoms or health concerns; different treatment based on their health insurance; or not receiving care in the patient’s preferred language.
Following the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, the American Medical Association adopted new guidelines to address discrimination in health settings.
The guidelines included a commitment to enforcing complaint procedures and creating clear anti-discrimination policies that would apply to certain staff or health professionals.
Researchers with the Commonwealth Fund proposed a few ways to tackle discrimination in the health care setting, including by creating a transparent accountability process, expanding education on the issue and promoting diversity in the health care workforce.
Michelle Doty, a lead study author, said in a statement that “the consequences of health care discrimination against older adults of color are serious.”
“People are not getting the care they need, their concerns are being ignored, and their health is suffering as a result,” Doty said. “As a society, we can work to end discrimination in the health system, first by recognizing discrimination and then actively working to dismantle it.”
The survey ran from March 1 to June 14, 2021, with 1,969 U.S. respondents. The margin of sampling error was 2 percentage points.