Racial concordance in healthcare

The following is written for the Cleo app by Dr. Joy Cooper, OBGYN and founder of Culture Care, a telemedicine service that connects Black women with Black doctors. We hope the content is helpful for all birthing people, and specifically those who identify as Black. Read more about Cleo’s partnership with Culture Care and our commitment to birth equity.

Being open about race and racism in healthcare is crucial to providing just and equitable care to everyone. Seeing someone’s race means seeing part of their culture and experience, not just a certain skin color—and a “colorblind” approach to medical care usually ends up reinforcing healthcare’s deeply-rooted inequities. You and your family can benefit from better care if your provider is culturally the same or similar to you. This is called racially-concordant care.

Health and racial concordance: Why it matters if your provider looks like you

Prior to desegregation, Black physicians often lived in the same community as their patients, and access to a Black physician was much easier than it is today. There have been Black-owned and operated hospitals since Reconstruction. Racially-concordant care to minority populations has a long legacy, and there have been several recent research studies proving it improves health outcomes during birth and into adulthood.

Racially-concordant care is effective

A 2019 study of Black men in Oakland revealed patients were more likely to have a preventative care screening when a Black doctor offered it to them. Patients who were mistrustful of healthcare were more willing to get tests done after seeing a Black doctor, which is a key factor in reducing the mortality rates of minority populations.

The Black infant mortality rate is another major health hurdle and disparity in the US. A 2020 study in Florida found that Black infants were more likely to survive if they were cared for by a Black pediatrician. Racially-concordant care is the key to Black survival.

Racially-concordant care is edifying

Racially-concordant care places focus on the patient care experience. One common misconception in America is that all African Americans speak the same English as the rest of the country. African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a coded English language shared by many Black people in the United States. And just like other languages, it has several regional dialects. Racially-concordant care in the African-American community is a necessity for communication.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities found that racially-concordant care often resulted in better communication between the doctor and patient. Having a provider that does not require you to code-switch, or shift your language, is edifying and comforting. Racially-concordant care focuses on making individual patients feel seen and affirmed in their presence.

Racially concordance is necessary in health care

Black people and other people of color are suffering because of racism in our health care systems. During the pandemic, Black and Latinx people have suffered from high rates of infection and morbidity. Racially-concordant care often results in better care and health outcomes for people in a system where there are disparities in almost every aspect of health and healthcare along racial lines.

Racially-concordant care is essential to birth equity and improving outcomes for BIPOC birthing people. Through partnerships with experts like Dr. Joy Cooper, Cleo helps employers provide equitable care for all employees, improving health outcomes and creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Learn more about how Cleo can serve the working families you support.