Black babies three times more likely to die when under the care of White doctors: study

Francis Akhalbey August 20, 2020
The study also revealed Black and White newborns were more likely to survive when under the care of Black doctors -- Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) revealed Black newborns are three times more likely to die when they are under the care of White doctors in the United States. The study was conducted by researchers from the Carlson School of Management of the University of Minnesota in collaboration with Harvard University and George Mason University.

A stark reality manifested in the overall systemic health disparity against Blacks in the United States, research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year also revealed Black babies are two times more likely to die before their first birthday as compared to White babies, irrespective of the mother’s education or earnings, The Guardian reports.

For the recent study, researchers scrutinized records of 1.8 million births in Florida between 1992 and 2015. The data revealed Black newborns were three times more likely to die than White newborns when under the care of White physicians, CNN reports. The study also revealed Black and White newborns were more likely to survive when under the care of Black doctors, though Black newborns were still more likely to die.

The authors wrote: “Strikingly, these effects appear to manifest more strongly in more complicated cases, and when hospitals deliver more Black newborns. The findings suggest that Black physicians outperform their White colleagues when caring for Black newborns.”

According to the study, the mortality rate of Black newborns dropped between 39% and 58% when Black physicians were responsible for their deliveries.

“Our study provides the first evidence that the Black-White newborn mortality gap is smaller when Black MDs provide care for Black newborns than when White MDs do, lending support to research examining the importance of racial concordance in addressing health care inequities,” co-author Rachel Hardeman shared on Twitter.

“Black babies have been dying at disproportionate rates since as long as we’ve collected data. The time is now to change this and to ensure that Black infants are afforded the opportunity to thrive.”

Though the study did not cover the reasons behind the racial disparities in newborn mortality, the authors wrote: “Taken with this work, it gives warrant for hospitals and other care organizations to invest in efforts to reduce such biases and explore their connection to institutional racism.”

They continued: “Reducing racial disparities in newborn mortality will also require raising awareness among physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators about the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities.”

The lead author on the study, Aaron Sojourner, said the solution to mitigate the mortality rate among Black newborns wasn’t to simply employ more Black doctors, though they constitute less than 5% of physicians in the country, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

“I think it certainly is important evidence of the need to figure out what’s going wrong for so many families,” said Sojourner. “What are Black doctors doing better than white doctors? What are hospitals doing differently?

“It could be implicit bias, it could be better communication, better trust of information that’s coming from the families, or something about how the patients and doctors are matched together, that’s not necessarily a difference in the room.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 20, 2020


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