Keeping Black Men Healthy
Doctor’s race can matter in health of Black men, study finds By DR. BILL J. RELEFORD, D.P.M. [caption id="attachment_16836" align="alignright" width="175"] DR. BILL J. RELEFORD, D.P.M.[/caption] A 2017 report (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr66/nvsr66_06.pdf) on U.S. deaths, life expectancy, mortality rates,
Doctor’s race can matter in health of Black men, study finds
By DR. BILL J. RELEFORD, D.P.M.
A 2017 report (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr66/nvsr66_06.pdf) on U.S. deaths, life expectancy, mortality rates, and trends published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that of any ethnic groups in the U.S., Black men had, and possibly still have the lowest life expectancy. Much of this gap is explained by increased rates of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes afflicting the poor and often poorly educated Black men.
But there is more to it.
Lack of Black Male Physicians: A Health Risk Factor
A new study recently published by the National Bureau for Economic Research has revealed the lack of Black physicians as another powerful force behind the low life expectancy of Black men in the U.S. In the study (https://www.nber.org/papers/w24787), researchers from California found that Black men were way more likely to agree to particular health tests and preventative measures if they saw a Black male doctor. It is worth noting that although 13 percent of the U.S. population is Black, only 4 percent of doctors are Black.
The study involved 702 Black men from Oakland. The participants were not aware that the goal of the research was to find out whether or not race mattered when doctors attended to and advised patients, and as it emerged, the racial effect was not subtle. The men were randomly assigned to Black, Asian, or White male doctors. Cholesterol tests and diabetes screening were part of the health checks.
The researchers found that 63 percent of the Black men that were assigned to a Black male doctor agreed to a diabetes screening while only 43 percent of those that saw an Asian or White doctor consented. Again, 62 percent of Black men that saw a Black doctor consented to a cholesterol test. Only 36 percent of the Black men assigned to a non-Black doctor agreed to this test.
The Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program Model
As a practicing African American physician and founder of the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program (BBHOP), I must say that our experience across the country is consistent with the findings of this study. Through our program, we have screened more than 30, 000 Black men for high blood pressure and diabetes across the country. While this figure isn’t as significant as you might expect, it makes a statement with regard to these study results. These findings agree with a survey we did in 2013. We saw that many Black men are diagnosed late and die more often from various diseases compared to other ethnic/racial groups (see report here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3758504/).This was attributed to, among other factors, mistrust of health care systems, cultural insensitivity, lack of knowledge/poor information, and low priority of health concerns.
We strongly believe organizations such as BBHOP are an effective way of promoting awareness and referral for a variety of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and prostate cancer, particularly for African American men. This is especially the case because, as we found — and now revealed by this new study — Black men are more open to Black male doctors.
Black Physicians Are an Important Prescription
So, perhaps the secret to keeping African American men healthy is having more Black male physicians.
“I do not think I’ve ever had such strong results, so unambiguous,” said Dr. Alsan Marcella, commenting on the new study findings. Marcella is an associate professor at Stanford University Medical School. She authored the study.
Dr. David Cutler, an applied economics professor at Harvard University, pointed out that the magnitude of the racial effect is too huge to be ignored. While White doctors may or may not have more success with Black male patients, the health care system should take heed now that researchers have shown that a doctor’s race could matter to his patients.
Dr. Bill J. Releford, D.P.M. is founder of The Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program and serves as Medical Director, The Releford Foot and Ankle Institute. Instagram:@drreleford, Twitter: @breleford