August 20, 2018
Black men have the shortest life expectancy of any major demographic group in the United States. At birth, they are expected to live 71.8 years – 4.5 years less than the average male.
There are various factors that contribute to that disparity. But a new study suggests a more diversified healthcare profession could help close that gap.
Specifically, more black doctors are needed.
Only 4 percent of physicians are black, despite 13 percent of the United States population being black.
The study, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that black men are 16 percentage points more likely to accept preventative treatment when recommended by a black physician than a non-black doctor.
That gap only expands when considering invasive screenings used to diagnose chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, which adversely impact black men.
The patients who visited black doctors were 26 percentage points more likely to accept a cholesterol screening and 20 percentage points more likely to take up a diabetes screening.
Based on these findings, researchers project that increased screening could lead to a 19 percent reduction in the gap between black and white cardiovascular mortality rates among men. Similarly, they project an 8 percent decline in the life expectancy gap between black and white men.
The study involved 702 black men recruited to attend an Oakland, California. clinic offering free health screenings. The men were randomly assigned to black or non-black doctors who offered screenings for body mass index, blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol. They later were offered a flu shot.
Researchers found that black men were 10 percent more likely discuss additional health problems if they saw a black doctor. Similarly, black doctors were 11 percent more likely to write notes about black patients.
The study recruited more than 1,300 black men from 20 barbershops and two flea markets in Oakland, offering them vouchers for free health screenings. Researchers established a clinic with 14 black and non-black doctors.