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A recollection of my experiences with racism throughout my life

It can be subtle or disturbingly overt. During the eight focus groups, participants were asked to talk about their own personal experiences with racism in health care. When asked whether discrimination exists in receiving quality health care, one African American participant summed up the collective response in this way: They said they often feel that health care providers treat them differently and assume they are less educated, poor, or deserving of less respect because of their race or culture.

A Hispanic physician, speaking of the perceptions of his colleagues, corroborated participants' opinions that health care providers make assumptions about their patients based on race or ethnicity. My name is… [a common Hispanic surname] and when they see that name, I think there is… some kind of a prejudice of the name… We're talking about on the phone, there's a lack of respect.

There's a lack of acknowledging the person and making one feel welcome. All of the courtesies that go with the profession that they are paid to do are kind of put aside. I know the negative one was based on race. It was [with] a previous primary care physician when I discovered I had diabetes.

I get there and the optometrist was talking to me as if I was like 10 years old. Native American participant One participant spoke about a relative who did not want to take her husband's name after marriage for fear of being negatively stereotyped. My granddaughter, she's a doctor herself. She graduated in Mexico and then she came here.

She [studied here] so she could become a doctor here. She married a Mexican guy named [a common Hispanic surname].

  • The reason [may be because] they're not well liked by administration or it may be just that they don't want that person in that setting because of their race—that is out there;
  • The specialist was black;
  • She left me waiting a long time until I hung up;
  • If you go into IHS for a problem, they don't investigate your problem to the extent that a private place does;
  • Native American participant Understand what the past health care history has been to Native Americans.

You know what she did? She took off [a common Hispanic surname] and kept [another surname], her father's name. As a result, they perceived that health care providers treat them differently and were concerned that they receive lower quality care.

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If you speak English well, then an American doctor, they will treat you better. If you speak Chinese and your English is not that good, they would also kind of look down on you. They would [be] kind of prejudiced. Chinese participant When they see he can't explain himself, they look at him as if [they are] belittling him. They treat him with a lot of inferiority… the doctor, nurses, receptionists.

Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care.

You can tell when the person is not liked by the doctors or the staff. I have seen a lot of discrimination in that manner. Hispanic participant I have a desire to improve my English so I can go to an American doctor and get better treatment.

Chinese participant Health care providers were also concerned about not being able to communicate adequately with their patients because of a language barrier.

They said they encountered health care staff who ignored them and avoided trying to help them. Others pointed out instances where they or their family members have received poor quality health care services and have been treated disrespectfully because they speak little or no English.

A long time ago my husband was in pain. I had to call an ambulance and they took him to the hospital. We waited three hours. I would ask the nurse to please treat him because he could not stand the pain. I asked for some medication in the meantime. They never came out with the medicine… Well, we left. They would call and call in black people. I think if we would've been black or American we would have been treated faster.

Hispanic participant [My wife] was a recollection of my experiences with racism throughout my life badly. They wouldn't take care of her. They were changing her IV and the nurse was very rough in the way she would take the needle out and put it back in.

I had to go and tell them with the little English I speak what was happening. So, they changed the nurse. That's the way it is. All the situations we are experiencing are because we can't communicate in English. Hispanic participant My son was in a bed and another boy was with his mother. Of course, they didn't speak English. The lady didn't know… she wanted to know where they were taking the boy.

She asked for the girl who was interpreting for her. We'll come back later,' and they left… but they didn't do anything about finding out where the interpreter was. Hispanic participant I had eye surgery two or three years ago. The specialist was black. There were Hispanics out front.

  1. They felt that doctors and nurses who are treating a high proportion of patients from a particular racial or ethnic group should be familiar with relevant customs that may impact patients' health care decisions.
  2. They said they encountered health care staff who ignored them and avoided trying to help them. They don't wait for it to grow.
  3. My husband told me not to sign anything and [that] he was on his way [to pick us up].
  4. I have to call like 10 times and they put me on hold and say they'll transfer me. He's big and white.

I told them I had an appointment with the doctor. Once we were inside, he would speak [only to the interpreter] directly. Hispanic participant Five years ago my son got double pneumonia. The doctors wanted to operate [on] him… They called my husband and he said he had to talk with the specialist who was treating my son to see what he had to say about the surgery.

We called… and the specialist said my son would not be able to resist that type of surgery. My husband called the hospital and told me not to sign any papers. I didn't speak English. I didn't know anything. They put the paper in front of me to sign. They insisted I sign the paper. My husband told me not a recollection of my experiences with racism throughout my life sign anything and [that] he was on his way [to pick us up].

In the end my son didn't have the surgery and he didn't die like they said he would. Three days after they said he needed the surgery he got better. The surgery was not necessary. Hispanic participant I called a pharmacy to see if my daughter's medicine was ready and they put me on hold. She left me waiting a long time until I hung up.

Participants were concerned that they may receive a lower standard of care because health care providers make assumptions about the type of treatment or medication that they can afford because they are racial or ethnic minorities. I know there have been a couple of times the doctor wanted to prescribe a certain medication but because of how much it was, he prescribed something else.

Not what was best, but what I could afford. African American participant Often times, the system gets the concept of black people off the 6 o'clock news, and they treat us all the same way. Here's a guy coming in here with no insurance. African American participant A lot of black people don't have money so I guess you would say that it's hard [to get quality health care. Others felt a lack of respect when they were rushed during appointments and sensed that providers or their staff did not want to take the time to help them, answer their questions, or explain medical procedures to them.

They wouldn't accept the appointment over the phone; they just put me on hold. I went in there and she looked at me and I told her I'd been calling trying to make an appointment.

STORIES OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTH CARE PRACTICE

She just got smart with me and all. I told my husband about it. He's big and white. She got to him just like that. She got the appointment and got him through.

She wouldn't do it for me. Native American participant I felt that because of my race that I wasn't serviced as well as a Caucasian person was. The attitude that you would get. Information wasn't given to me as it would have [been given to] a Caucasian. The attitude made me feel like I was less important. Basically, they get really annoyed if you talk too much because they know they don't understand your language. When I go to the doctor I ask a lot of questions, so they can get really aggravated with me.

I don't know if they would do the same thing to a white person.

  • African American participant I think there are just certain aspects of the culture that one may know a little bit more about by just being part of the culture;
  • He had MediCal before;
  • I found out that she had walking pneumonia;
  • There were Hispanics out front.

African American participant Others felt they must wait for long periods of time before receiving medications and other medical assistance, while whites are cared for first. I would call [for the nurse] when I was feeling pretty bad.

I need something to calm the pain!

  • Others pointed out instances where they or their family members have received poor quality health care services and have been treated disrespectfully because they speak little or no English;
  • He had MediCal before.

There were American [patients] there. They would even close the curtains for them. Hispanic participant If your bell was on and the Caucasian lady, she doesn't even have to have her bell on. She was being attended to because they knew they better… do a certain quality [of service]. Whereas the same quality should have been given to the black people, but their bell would be on and they still would have to wait.