There has been a lot of attention lately on the health disparities facing African Americans, both nationally and in Kansas. For example, it was reported recently that Kansas had the largest racial disparity in COVID-19 death rates in the nation.
There are other disparities that MSSC physicians have known about for a long time, such as higher mortality rates for Black infants in Sedgwick County.
Many disparities are related to social determinants, such as income and education levels and access to healthy foods and transportation. Systemic racism also can be a driving force behind inequities.
MSSC has been active in addressing some of the disparities. For example, MSSC helped form the Maternal Infant Health Coalition. MSSC’s Health ICT program has worked on food deserts and the prevention and management of chronic diseases among African Americans. Project Access helps uninsured residents receive specialty care. MSSC also advocates for policies that would reduce disparities, such as Medicaid expansion.
But MSSC is looking at additional ways to improve care and reduce disparities. One idea is working to increase the number of African American physicians.
MSSC physicians of all ethnicities provide high-quality care. However, research shows that Black patients, particularly Black men, tend to have better health outcomes when they are seen by Black physicians.
One likely reason is that patients may be more comfortable with a Black physician and, therefore, more open about sharing health concerns. Black patients also may be more trusting of Black physicians, which increases openness to prevention measures.
Currently, MSSC does not have many Black physicians. Of about 975 active MSSC members (not counting retired physicians or residents), 24 are Black, or about 2.5%. What might be done to increase this number? MSSC is considering a multipronged approach.
MSSC physicians speak each year to high school classes about their profession and what it takes to become a doctor. MSSC is looking at targeting more of those visits to high schools with higher minority populations. MSSC also is considering starting at younger grade levels, perhaps even elementary schools.
Regan DeHart, MD, said she spoke to a little Black girl a few years ago who said she didn’t know that people who look like her could be doctors. “We need to start early,” DeHart said.
Another pronged approach could focus on Black medical students, particularly at KU School of Medicine-Wichita. MSSC has inquired to the KU Endowment about setting up a scholarship program. MSSC also is investigating summer pipeline programs for minority undergraduate students that help prepare them for the medical school application process.
A third prong could focus on residency programs: How can Wichita increase the number of African American residents? How can we get more of them to stay in Wichita when they complete their training?
David Bryant, MD, said that resources and support are key. Black students and residents need to know there are people who will take them in and can teach them, he said.
MSSC also is considering other ways to reduce health inequities, such as educating MSSC members on health inequities and on how implicit bias or misinformation can impact health care.
Maurice Duggins, MD, suggested more community outreach, such as getting information to Black women about what to expect during their pregnancies and what resources are available.
Some of these initiatives could take years to see results, such as speaking to elementary students. But, DeHart said, “We have to start with something.”
Here are some of the health disparities between Blacks and Non-Hispanic Whites, as compiled by Familiesusa.org and other sources. Blacks are:
- 5 times more likely to die from a coronavirus infection.
- 44% more likely to die from a stroke.
- 40% more likely to die from breast cancer.
- 52% more likely to die from cervical cancer.
- 2 times more likely to die from prostate cancer.
- 25% more likely to die from heart disease.
- 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication.
- 72% more likely to be diabetic.
- 5 times as likely to die as infants.
- 2 times as likely to die of SIDS.
- 2 times more likely to have asthma.