Promoting Health Equity Among Black Men
A 2022 Cleveland Clinic survey found that out of 1,000 men surveyed, ages 18 and above, 53% do not get regular health screenings. For men of color, the number rises to 63%.
Research shows Black men have the worst health profiles of any other ethnic group in the United States and die four years earlier than white men. Black men are more likely to have undiagnosed or poorly managed medical conditions such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, and heart disease and often do not seek medical care. Many times, their first visit to a doctor is in the emergency department of a hospital. One contributing factor for the differences in men’s health outcomes is strongly related to racial biases, stereotypes, and cultural insensitivity, resulting in health disparities. Research also shows Black men face disadvantages that affect their lives and overall health including less education, lower wages, and higher levels of poverty, unemployment, violence, and incarceration.
The concept of health disparity refers to health differences between different groups of people. A Pew Research Center survey of Black Americans showed mixed opinions on the progress made in health equity and outcomes, with 47% saying they believe health equity has improved over the past 20 years, 31% saying it has stayed the same, and 20% saying it is worse. Reasons cited to explain this perceived worsening include a belief that health care providers are less likely to give Black people the most advanced medical care and that hospitals and medical centers give lower priority to their well being. Additionally, 56% of Black Americans report at least one negative experience, including having to speak up to get proper care, and being treated with less respect than other patients.
Health equity affects other underserved groups such as Latinos and Native Americans and health disparities costs the U.S. an estimated 360 billion dollars annually. Inequities across the U.S. health system limited underserved people’s access to affordable, high-quality care, creating avoidable costs and leading to financial waste. This number is predicted to rise to 1 trillion dollars by 2040 as the population of people of color continues to grow. The health care system is focusing on eliminating health disparities and medical organizations are working toward health equity by developing policies and programs and adding more education and research. Other disparities affecting health include education, economic stability, health coverage, adequate housing, safe environments, transportation, and access to quality food.
At HopeHealth, a Federally-Qualified Health Center, our culturally diverse medical team and staff is dedicated to treating patients with respect and providing high quality medical care to all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, or medical coverage status. In 2018, HopeHealth purchased the Streater Building, an important Black architectural landmark located on the Medical Plaza campus, to provide value-based community services outside of the traditional scope of health care. Fredrick Williams, Practice Administrator for the Infectious Disease Department shares, “The Streater Building is currently under renovation and when finished, will focus on strengthening community engagement and working to decrease barriers to care. Our goal is to address the critical need of preventive screenings and health care access with a focus on seniors, Veterans, and Black men in the community. We will be focusing on Black men to enhance their health and link them with other community resources to help improve their quality of life. Additionally, these efforts will help to uplift ongoing efforts to promote equity in our community and simultaneously combat any persisting racist ideologies that still exist.”
Engagement in one’s own health is a primary indicator of overall health. While 1 in 4 men do not have a primary care provider, Black men are less likely than all other minority groups to seek medical care. It is vital for all Black men and men in general to seek medical care, establish a health baseline, and schedule checkups annually.
Finding a provider by talking to friends, family, and researching online can help in making a decision. It takes patience and time to find the right provider and build trust. Many men withhold information from their provider due to fear of a medical condition they don’t want to deal with, or not wanting to be told what to do. It is important to be honest and report any symptoms. Medical conditions caught early can be more effectively treated, and are less likely to develop into serious or life-altering conditions.
Surveys indicate sexual health is a high priority for men. Many think erectile dysfunction is caused by low testosterone, but it more often is a result of uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, or HIV. Early treatment of these medical conditions not only helps preserve sexual health but can also help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease. A cancer diagnosis is another fear for men, but having annual checkups and learning about personal family history can also help catch potential cancers early.
When visiting a provider, be prepared. Learn about personal family history and ask questions about any labs, medications, and procedures that may come up. Take a friend or family member to the appointment to provide advocacy, as medical information can be confusing. Ultimately, the patient is in control of all health care decisions and a strong partnership with a health care provider helps lead the way in the process. A focus on health and advocating for one’s self as a Black man can help turn the tide from health disparity to health equity for all Black men in our community.