People generally associate racism with a lack of education and may believe that those who know more about the world are less likely to judge others based solely on their appearance. Therefore, it would be totally reasonable to assume that medical professionals, including physicians, would be far less likely than the average person to display racist behaviors simply because they are a particularly well-educated group of professionals.
That assumption might actually be wrong, however, because statistics show that race plays a major role in the healthcare that people receive. There is data indicating that pervasive racism affects care everywhere from nursing homes to emergency rooms, but nowhere is medical racism arguably a bigger concern than in labor and delivery wards.
Black mothers and infants have worse outcomes
The outcome for infants is often worse if their mother is black. An estimated 13.2 infants per 1,000 die, which is more than twice the rate of 5.1 per 1,000 for white infants. Native American and Latin newborns also have higher mortality rates than those reported for white infants. The mothers themselves are also at higher risk. Roughly 69.9 non-Hispanic black mothers per every 100,000 giving birth die in the process. That is 2.6 times higher than the maternal mortality rate for white others.
There are numerous factors that may contribute to those poor overall outcomes for black mothers and their babies. Doctors being less likely to listen to self-reported symptoms is likely one factor. A judgmental and dismissive attitude toward anyone using Medicaid benefits to cover maternity care is another. Typically, women of all races require essentially the same support during labor and delivery, so it would likely be changes in the behavior and practices of medical professionals that contribute the most to the discrepancy and outcomes among those of different races.
What does this mean for patients?
Women preparing for the birth of a child and their birth partners may need to be aware of how the mother’s appearance can influence the standard of care that she receives. They may need to be more proactive about speaking up regarding issues that arise during labor and delivery. They may also need to be more skeptical when something goes wrong.
Those who understand that racism can influence the care provided in a labor and delivery ward can potentially avoid a poor outcome or at least pursue justice when a mother and/or child does not receive proper care during a time of medical vulnerability because of their race. Taking action after experiencing race-based medical malpractice may help people hold medical professionals and the facilities that employ them responsible for the consequences of that harm.