Race, Gender, Age Lead to Disparities in Care

Health care providers from around the state gathered in Sacramento this week to examine disparities in medical care. They started by examining their own treatment of patients.

The annual conference of the California Association of Physician Groups took an unusual approach Wednesday to improving care, focusing on possible misconceptions or biased treatment by physicians of some patients.

The conference looked at possible disparities in treatment of Muslims or other culturally different patients, bias based on appearance and even bias toward patients who can’t be cured.

“Muslim immigrants are at-risk for trauma, and for being astigmatized,” said Laurel Benhamida from the Muslim American Society. “There are many international stressors for Muslims. For instance, Syrians have death on their minds, people from Syria often have lost someone they know, and that’s true wherever people are experiencing war in their countries of origin.”

Muslim immigrants should be screened in some way for post-traumatic stress disorder, she said, because most Muslims keep quiet about what they’ve experienced.

“Also there is a cultural stigma about dealing with trauma,” Benhamida said. “It’s widespread, and yet many deal with it silently.”

Judy Citko, CEO of the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California, said many people at the end of their lives can get short shrift from physicians and other health providers. If there is o cure or hope for recovery, there is a natural tendency for providers to professionally abandon hospice candidates, she said. It can be an abandonment at a particularly fragile time, Citko added.

“One of the reasons it’s important to focus on care at the end of life,” she said, “is sometimes, it’s a case of whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Things can get really complicated at the end of life, and that’s when people need help most.”

California HHS Secretary Diana Dooley spoke at the conference, explaining the approach to disparities spelled out in a recent report by the Let’s Get Healthy California task force.

“One of the most distinguishing elements of the Let’s Get Healthy California plan is that we addressed disparities throughout it,” Dooley said. “We looked at innovations and we looked at ways to take this work and make it be actionable.”

Disparities in care were taken into account when analyzing all aspects of the health work that needs to be done in the state, Dooley said.

“It’s imperative,” she said. “You have to look at where the greatest need is.”

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