About a quarter of Latino and Black older adults reported facing racial discrimination at the doctor’s office, making it harder for them to receive the care they need, according to a study from the Commonwealth Fund released Thursday.
The findings showed that patients of color ages 60 or older were more likely to say they were treated unfairly or had their health concerns dismissed by medical professionals. Twenty-three percent of Latino and 25 percent of Black respondents said they experienced this type of bias — a rate approximately eight times that of white older adults.
The study reinforces what Black and Latino patients have said for years, “that the healthcare system is not working for people of color, particularly older adults,” study author Michelle M. Doty told NBC News in an email.
The report also indicated that this will exacerbate existing disparities. According to the study, patients who reported racial discrimination also experienced more social isolation, financial strain and feelings of dissatisfaction with their care, researchers said.
Experts say the stakes are higher among older populations because they use these services more frequently.
“Given that older adults use far more health care services than do younger people, and that the U.S. population is rapidly aging, addressing discrimination in health care settings is especially important for older adults of color,” Doty said.
Older Black women were some of the most impacted, according to the study, with at least 49 percent stating they have been treated unfairly due to their race, compared to 34 percent of Latina and 37 percent of white women.
Among 11 high-income countries, older U.S. adults were the highest group — at 32 percent — to say the health care system treats people differently because of their race or ethnicity, almost double the rate of adults in Canada, which was 17 percent.
Amid these disparities, experts recommended policy changes. These included publicly disclosing discrimination data as well as conducting educational trainings that tackle racism and implicit bias among health care providers.
“We have a problem,” Doty said. “We can and must do better.”