Black diabetic kids aren’t getting needed eye exams. Is medical racism to blame?

black child glasses diabetes yardyspice blog mommyCredit: KzAkabueze – ONEin12

I was searching for a picture of a black child with glasses for a blog post and came across this startling article, “Black Kids With Diabetes Less Likely to Get Eye Exams“. Juvenile or Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not make enough insulin. The side effects of not managing the disorder includes blindness, nerve damage, and even death but a a Type 1 diagnosis does not have to be dire. It is possible to manage the disorder with medication, diet and exercise so proper medical care is a must which is why the study is alarming. The story was also dismayed that this story wasn’t picked up in the black media because it is important for black parents to realize that even though they are only children, our kids are not immune to medical racism.

Medical racism and children

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment is the most famous instance of medical racism, however, it is an issue that is unfortunately common place for black patients. What’s more, it’s frequently overlooked that black children are also the victim of medical racism as the under-treatment of black diabetic kids shows. In fact, one study has found that our children don’t get the pain medication they need in the ER. Sadly, one of the reasons given was that white doctors were not able to recognize pain in other races. Here are some other ways racism manifests itself in the doctor’s office:

In a study published in a March  issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that two-thirds of doctors harbored “unconscious” racial biases toward patients. When those biases were present, researchers found that doctors tended to dominate conversations with African-American patients, pay less attention to their personal and psychosocial needs and make patients feel less involved in making decisions about their health.

Because there has been a rise in the number of black children under 5 who are being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, it’s imperative that parents are not only aware of the symptoms of the disorder but also how to handle medical racism. I couldn’t find any advice on how to handle medical racism so I’m going to list a couple of things I’ve done in the past:

1. Do your research

First, research your doctor. I never really thought too much about doctors until I had my son. I must have researched my son’s pediatrician for weeks before selecting her and even then, I was ready to pack up my child and leave if she didn’t treat me with respect.  Ask your family or friends for a referral but if you have to go to a doctor without a personal recommendation, google her. You can easily find reviews of doctors online either on Yelp!,, or other health care service provider review websites, some of which may be local.  Also, if you are part of a parent’s group, you you maybe able to reach out to members to get honest feedback on their experiences with a doctor.

Secondly, you should also research your health concern. According to Dr. Kharia Holmes, researching your health concerns on the internet beforehand can provide a great starting point for discussions with your doctor. I’ve had all my questions fly out of my head the minute I stepped through the door so I now go in with a list of questions.

2. Get a second opinion

Don’t be afraid to leave the doctor’s office if you are having a negative experience. Your child’s life may depend on it.

3. “Debias” the doctor

Finally, it may be possible to reduce the doctor’s bias. For instance, one study found that doctors who showed a strong pro-white preference on the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a computer program that measures unconscious bias, treated black patients more poorly. The study had a silver lining, however, the doctors who had taken part in the study were more aware of their unconscious biases and that it could affect how they treated their patients. Most importantly, doctors who were put on notice that the test was about implicit or unconscious biases were more likely to treat their patients better than the doctors who were not informed.

One other way it may be possible to “debias” a doctor and increase the chance that your child will be given the best medical attention is to humanize yourself. One study found that “perspective taking” or seeing things from the point of view of a minority reduced unconscious biases. Perhaps you could explicitly ask the doctor to put herself in your shoes and to treat your child as she would her own.

You can also humanize yourself by finding something in common with the doctor. For example, if you attended the same college, bring it to their attention. According to the research, having the doctor see you not as a black person but as a fellow alumna, could slow down their automatic biases and reduce stereotyping. The result is that a less prejudiced doctor is more likely to be more to treat her black patients better.

For us, there is no routine visit to the doctor.

Questions: Have you experienced medical racism? How did you deal with it?

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