“Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.” — Bob Marley, “War”
Racial inequity in the U.S. health system is, in many ways, far deadlier than police violence.
The failures of the health care industry to appropriately care for Black patients are well-documented, resulting in the lowest life expectancy of any major group in the U.S. In addition to poverty, lack of access to care, and inadequate treatment, people of color are also dying due to bias in medical education, clinicians’ insufficient exam skills, and lack of appropriate information tools. The medical community needs to wake up and start fixing the way we recruit, train, and equip clinicians to reverse the trend of Black Americans dying too early and too often.
My specialty, dermatology, is a prime example of the kinds of changes we need.
The skin is considered a window into health. But clinicians who haven’t been properly trained often fail to see some conditions in patients with Black skin. Reggae pioneer Bob Marley died of melanoma, a treatable skin cancer that is often missed and misdiagnosed in Black people. It becomes fatal if left untreated.
I’ve seen patients of color misdiagnosed because clinicians could not recognize their rashes. I’ve seen immunologic diseases such as lupus, life-threatening drug reactions, and other conditions that manifest themselves on the skin get missed for the same reasons. I recall