Researchers have offered many theories about why black people are disproportionately affected by heart disease and diabetes. Genetic factors, poor diet, lack of insurance, lack of access to care and residence in “food deserts” have all been suggested as potential contributors.
But how about a lack of black physicians? A recent study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that black men were significantly more likely to follow through with preventive cardiovascular screening when they were seen by a black doctor versus a white or an Asian physician.
More than 700 men were recruited from barbershops and flea markets in Oakland, California, to attend a clinic for a free health screening. They were randomly assigned to a black male doctor or one who was Asian or white.
A total of 63 percent of the men agreed to a diabetes screening if their doctor was black, compared to 43 percent of those assigned to white or Asian physicians. Likewise, 62 percent of participants agreed to cholesterol tests after being seen by black physicians versus 36 percent who were seen by another doctor.
“Anyone going to see a doctor will be nervous,” a white doctor, who was involved in the study but asked to remain unnamed, told The New York Times. “If you face discrimination regularly in life, you will go into a clinic with even more apprehensions. If you see a physician who is African-American, you will feel some relief.”
The researchers told The Times if black men were to agree to preventive care at these rates, the gap in cardiovascular mortality between them and the rest of the population would shrink by about 20 percent.
According to the newspaper, 13 percent of the U.S. population is black but only 4 percent of physicians are black. Read more below: