Black women face unique health challenges. They have higher rates of chronic conditions. Their health concerns may not be diagnosed as quickly, resulting in worse health outcomes and shorter life expectancy. These disparities are influenced by many things, including social determinants of health, access to quality healthcare, and racial discrimination.
In fact, the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health is putting a spotlight on the impact social determinants of health have on health outcomes this Black History Month.
What can healthcare providers do? Here are three steps to support Black women’s health.
1. Address patients’ concerns with respect. Recognize implicit bias and that Black women may experience racial discrimination in medical settings. Leave ample time for patients to ask questions. Take these questions seriously, and treat all patients with respect. Get a sense of the patient’s life circumstances, and consider the ways implicit bias may influence your views.
2. Help patients prevent or manage common health concerns. Discuss these conditions with patients so they are aware of their risk. Make sure they know symptoms to report and when to seek medical attention. Arrange for appropriate screenings and treatments as needed. Krames has patient education that can help women make informed decisions about their care, from screening to chronic disease management.
- Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death in Black women, and stroke is third. Work with patients to increase their physical activity, stop smoking, maintain a healthy weight, and eat a healthy diet.
- Type 2 diabetes affects 1 in 4 Black women over the age of 55. Many people don’t know they have diabetes. Screen patients appropriately. For those already diagnosed, consider a referral to diabetes education.
- Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Black women. Black women are more likely to die from breast and cervical cancer and are often diagnosed when the cancer is at a more advanced stage. Encourage patients to have routine cancer screenings, and answer any questions or concerns they have.
- Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. Watch for complications such as preeclampsia. Counsel patients on any necessary lifestyle modifications and the importance of keeping prenatal appointments. Make sure patients understand urgent maternal warning signs and when to seek medical attention.
3. Partner with patients to reduce barriers. Many things are beyond patients’ control. They may not be able to access screenings or medicines because of cost or transportation problems. They may not keep appointments due to lack of childcare. They may not be able to purchase healthy food if there isn’t a grocery store nearby. Connect patients with local or national resources, health system financial assistance, or an internal case manager who can assist.
Additionally, more information and resources are available from organizations like the Black Women’s Health Imperative, which is working to improve Black women’s health through meaningful programs that empower Black women, advance research, and promote change through legislation. Program focuses include lifestyle changes to prevent chronic conditions, fair workplaces, and increasing participation of Black women in cancer clinical trials.
While patients can be excellent self-advocates, providers can best support them by addressing their concerns with respect, being alert for specific conditions, learning about the upstream factors that influence these health concerns, and familiarizing themselves with resources to assist patients.
- 7 Diseases That Affect Your Health, And What You Can Do. NIH, Office of Research on Women’s Health. Accessed Feb 2023. https://orwh.od.nih.gov/sites/orwh/files/docs/AfricanAmericanWomen-HealthORWHFactSheet.pdf
- Key Facts on Health and Health Care by Race and Ethnicity. Kaiser Family Foundation. Accessed Feb 2023. https://www.kff.org/report-section/key-facts-on-health-and-health-care-by-race-and-ethnicity-social-determinants-of-health/
- Diversity & Inclusion in Clinical Trials. National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Accessed Feb 2023. https://www.nimhd.nih.gov/resources/understanding-health-disparities/diversity-and-inclusion-in-clinical-trials.html
- Leading Causes of Death – Females – Non-Hispanic Black – United States, 2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed Feb 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/women/lcod/2018/nonhispanic-black/index.htm
- Cancer Disparities in the Black Community. American Cancer Society. Accessed Feb 2023. https://www.cancer.org/about-us/what-we-do/health-equity/cancer-disparities-in-the-black-community.html
- Working Together to Reduce Black Maternal Mortality. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed Feb 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/healthequity/features/maternal-mortality/index.html
- Black and African American Health and Resources. Office of Minority Health. Accessed Feb 2023. https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/bhm/resources/
- How does implicit bias by physicians affect patients' health care? American Psychological Association. Accessed Feb 2023. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/03/ce-corner