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CNN Report on Aparthied in Medical Care in New York City – a follow-up note

July 22, 2009

(The message below was posted on Anderson Cooper’s blog in response to many comments recieved about the show that aired on July 20 on AC360. It is scheduled to air again on Saturday July 25 on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s House Calls)

My name is Dr Neil Calman and I was the physician interviewed by Dr. Gupta for the segment on racism in medical care. For those of you who may have missed it you can see it by clicking on the link below:

First, I would like to express my appreciation to CNN, Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his senior producer Caleb Hellerman for a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of the difficulties people of color in New York (and certainly in other parts of the country) have in obtaining good medical care. This report was the result of an investigation of the named hospitals in New York City done more than a year ago and which formed the basis of a complaint to the New York State Attorney General.

I also sincerely appreciate the many comments on CNN’s blog from patients – many of whom were not Black – who were also misdiagnosed, mistreated or otherwise received inadequate care and concern for their medical problems. These stories require our attention as American’s receive grossly inadequate care while our country spends 2 to 3 times more per person than some other countries that achieve far better outcomes and whose residents live longer and healthier lives. That is why we need health reform and need it now. It also speaks to the need for more primary care physicians – so every person in America that wants one, can have an ongoing, supportive relationship with one main provider who cares for almost all their medical needs and advocates for them when they need to see a specialist or when they need specialized care or a special procedure.

I want to address the issue that being Black is not what the CNN story was about but rather was the same story that could be told by poor or uninsured white people as well. Telling the story of only a few Black ministers in the Bronx was not meant to suggest that the problem was exclusively one faced by people of color. The people interviewed were just examples of over 100 phone calls made and recorded by our researchers who looked at how people were sorted into different models of care in New York City based upon the type of insurance they have. In New York City, because of the predominance of Blacks and Latinos among the uninsured and those on Medicaid, sorting people of color into systems with less well trained providers, no continuity of care, no emergency call systems and no communication back to the patients primary care provider – all contribute to the inadequate medical care that many receive and contribute to the poorer health outcomes Blacks experience.

Some people say that its all about education – or poverty – or lack of insurance. In fact, imagine that each of these things – education, financial well-being and good insurance coverage – are all things people need to get the best medical care. And also imagine – what hundreds of published studies have shown – that race, independent of all these other factors, is a predictor of poorer health care processes and poorer outcomes. If you imagine this, then you can understand that the question is not which of these factors is more important – but how many strikes do you have against you when you seek medical care. Race is one factor and being Black or Latino is one strike. Being poorly educated is another strike – especially when that means a poor understanding of the diseases that are important in your own preventive care plan, your family’s health or the diseases most prevalent in your community. Lack of financial means may create a situation where you put off, sometimes indefinitely, needed preventive care measures or put off buying the prescription drug not covered by your health plan. And being uninsured is a fourth strike as it is the greatest predictor of bad health outcomes.

Racism in health care is a common experience of people of color so let’s stop saying that race does not matter. We know it does. It is one very important factor in why people get bad medical care. . So is poor education, poverty and lack of insurance.

Our health care system needs to do better. We need to fight racism in medicine wherever it occurs and that is what the CNN story is about. We also need to get health reform passed now! That will largely fix the insurance issue. We need many more primary care physicians so everyone can have a trusted physician they know over time and who will care for all their basic medical needs. And we need a better campaign to educate all America about the importance of preventive care, good care for their chronic illnesses and about the health behaviors that can help them lead healthier and longer lives.

As President Obama points out – this is not a debate over politics. Everyone knows we need to fix our very broken health care system. Everyone has a horror story to tell somewhere in their personal experience or the experience of their friends or family. We have to do better than this and we can.

About

A blog dedicated to the fight for social justice, logic, efficiency, quality and compassion in the way health services are delivered, paid for and regulated. My hope is to engage with you in a bold conversation of health care issues – and share my perspective as a physician, as CEO of a non-profit health care system, and as one who seeks to make the lives of those around him happier and healthier.

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