Beyond Bias: How Racism Reflects in Healthcare

In an ideal society, the healthcare system would value and care for the well-being of each patient regardless of their race. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and there is a harsh reality that we must face: patients of color often experience a tremendously different quality of care compared to white patients. This racial bias can range from simply harsher treatment to miscommunication regarding life-altering treatment decisions. This issue is beginning to resurface, re-exposing one of the most deeply embedded issues in healthcare. Understanding racism in healthcare is the first step we must take to deconstruct this systemic issue and ensure equitable care for all.

While racial discrimination has always been evident in healthcare settings, there has been a relatively recent case that is gaining attention online. In February of 2021, a 16-year-old girl, Sahana Ramesh, died due to an allergic reaction to lamotrigine – a medication meant to regulate seizures. After she began taking this medication, Sahana had shown many signs of intolerance, with rashes covering her body. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms or DRESS. Despite her lab results reporting signs of liver and organ failure – two symptoms of DRESS – she was released from the hospital after the diagnosis. Staff told her parents they could care for their daughter at home. However, her condition was only worsening. When her parents attempted to contact the hospital, their concerns were ignored. Shortly after her passing, her parents filed a lawsuit attributing her death to the hospital’s intentional and race-based negligence. They reported feeling vastly unwelcome in the facility for reasons relating to their south asian descent and believed that their daughter’s death was entirely preventable. 

Unfortunately, Sahana’s story is not unique. Over half of black adults are worried about their appearance as they feel like it will impact the treatment they receive from hospital staff and physicians. About 40% of Asians and almost half of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Hispanic patients share this feeling compared to under 20% of white people. 

There is a clear division in healthcare stemming from racially based ideals, and one of the only ways to face it is head-on. By addressing these issues and raising awareness for them via the media, people can foster a sense of community and support amongst themselves. Additionally, another solution is to implement unconscious bias training. This training aims to help individuals identify any racial prejudices they might have that can impact the treatment they provide to patients. Finally, while not compromising the quality of service, hospitals can encourage diversity within their staff and leadership boards to help represent various communities and ensure that all patients feel seen.  

We have a long way to go before we can safely say we have reached our ideal version of healthcare. Through measures such as the ones mentioned previously, we can work towards establishing a system of healthcare that prioritizes the well-being of all patients, regardless of race. 

Works Cited

Chavez, N. (2024, May 25). Discrimination and negligence at Seattle Children’s hospital led to teen’s death, family alleges in lawsuit. CNN.

DeGuzman, C. (2023, December 5). Many People of Color Worry Good Health Care Is Tied to Their Appearance. KFF Health News.