Patient Advocate Dima Hendricks A Sickle Cell Survivor, Shares Her Story with Racial Bias in Medicine.

According to one study women in emergency rooms are less likely to be taken seriously than men. The study states that women report more severe levels of pain, more frequent incidences of pain, and pain of longer duration than men, but are nonetheless treated for pain less aggressively. The American Society of Hematology reports that approximately 70000 – 100000 Americans live with sickle cell disease. Roughly 8 percent of African Americans are affected by sickle cell disorder.

The CDC  reports that pain episodes or pain crises are the most common complication with SCD and the number 1 reason that people with SCD go to the emergency room to seek treatment. Notably, pain can start suddenly, be mild to severe, and last for any length of time. Sickle cells travel through small vessels, striking and clogging the blog flow resulting in abrupt pain.

On the other hand, the prevalence of racial bias in medicine prevents patients from accessing quality care. One study reveals that “a substantial number of white laypeople, medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites and demonstrates that these beliefs predict racial bias in pain perception and treatment recommendation accuracy. While black Americans are systematically under-treated for pain relative to white Americans and women are less likely to be believed about their pain symptoms in comparison to their male counterparts we must emphasize the importance of fair and equal treatment of all patients across healthcare settings.

Dima a survivor of SCD shares her experience with pain facing racial bias in places such as South and North Boston in emergency rooms. 

People of color are treated like drug addicts and were treated as predators. I went to a hospital where the doctor didn’t even believe me. I told him, “Sir, I’m having an acute chest crisis and I need this many pints of blood, these antibiotics, you also need to admit me and I need to go to the ICU”. He told me I have mono and I need to go home. He gave me medication for mono and then I told him I needed to go home. Of course, the diagnosis was incorrect and I went to my regular provider, in fact, everything that I said, needed to happen.

As it relates to racial bias in medicine, I think it’s a matter of the atmosphere,  a pretentious doctor with a doctor’s hang-ups, the way we communicate, etc. Sometimes the way we communicate as patients when we’re in pain, we do come off a little testy. For example, when a woman comes in the hospital to give birth, she wants to rip her husband’s head off. There are so many dynamics that are at play that we’re not realizing the other person’s viewpoint.

I think if we all take a step back and evaluate, okay, where is this person coming from? Where’s the doctor coming from?  Where does the hospital administration come from? What’s the bottom line? And how is this patient feeling? If we sit down at the table together and have this conversation. I think there’ll be a little bit more room for evolution.

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