As the U.S. continues to struggle with issues in equity for people of all races, it’s no surprise that there are similar inequalities in terms of health. Anyone who suffers from chronic pain deserves the same compassion and treatment options that all other patients receive. We’ve talked before about some of the inequalities in care among genders; this post covers those who are being underserved by the larger medical community. By shining a light on these stories, we hope to show how comprehensive and compassionate chronic pain treatment should be extended to all patients.

Chronic pain in the African American community 

African Americans experience unique health challenges. These may be a result of a combination of factors that include lower socioeconomic status, geographic distribution of the population, underlying prejudices, and access to quality healthcare resources.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services fact sheet for African Americans, some of these challenges include:

  • The highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for cancer generally and for most major cancers individually, including stomach, liver, prostate, and colon cancers
  • A 40% higher chance of death due to breast cancer even though the rate of breast cancer for African American women is 10% lower than non-Hispanic whites
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure at an 18% higher rate than non-Hispanic whites and a 40% increased incidence of high blood pressure in general
  • An infant mortality rate that is 2.3 times the rate for non-Hispanic whites, with African American infants dying of low birthweight-related issues at four times the rate of white infants

A crucial part of healthcare is insurance that provides access to preventative care, and African Americans are 55% more likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanic white Americans. This low rate of insurance contributes to higher rates of mortality and more serious illness in African American populations. The rates of insurance vary widely across geographic regions, with African Americans less likely to have health insurance in the south than anywhere else in the country. This gap was closing between 2013 and 2016, with 18% uninsured in 2013 and 11% in 2016, but recent policy legal updates may change that.

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Quality of care

Not only do African Americans have less access to care due to a lower rate of insurance, but the care they do access is of lower quality than care given to non-Hispanic whites.

In two studies that examined a doctor’s unconscious bias, researchers found that doctors who demonstrated bias in a task were providing care that was rated much lower among their African American patients. This was supported by research that indicated higher death rates for lung cancer were present in highly segregated counties in Colorado, even when controlling for income and smoking prevalence.

Awori J. Hayanga, MD, MPH, the study’s lead author, believes that it is not just unequal access that is the issue, and adding more doctors or providing more insurance won’t necessarily fix the problem. Hayanga notes:

“It is the lack of access, the deprivation, but also the intangible sociocultural aspects of it. One, you may not have the screening services. Two, if you do have screening services, do you have the specialists to see? Will the population dealing with this trust the system enough to go or is there a cultural barrier that stops them from going to that second phase of their care? It isn’t one thing — it’s a complex equation where enough things collude to make it happen.”

Different chronic pain treatment access

When it comes to chronic pain diagnosis and treatment, these barriers of access and bias exist and extend to checkups and monitoring of pain treatment plans, especially when it comes to opioid prescriptions. Lead investigator Leslie R.M. Hausmann, PhD at the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and assistant