Patients who fear being judged by health care providers have worse health than others, researchers report.
The study of 1,500 Americans found more than 17 percent felt vulnerable to being negatively viewed by health care providers because of their race, gender, social class, age or weight.
These people were more likely to have high blood pressure, depression and to rate their health worse. They were also more likely to distrust doctors, express dissatisfaction with their care and avoid preventive care, including flu vaccination, the study found.
“It’s time for us to implement policies that enhance medical school training in cultural competency and increase the diversity of our physicians and broader health care workforce,” said study author Cleopatra Abdou, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology.
She and her colleagues found that even public health campaigns meant to help specific groups of people sometimes reinforce negative stereotypes.
For example, campaigns about reproductive health in women of color, depression in women, memory problems in older adults and sexual health in the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/questioning community can reinforce negative views about these groups, she said.
“It’s not that there aren’t real health concerns in specific communities that we need to do more — much more — to address, but how we communicate about these concerns is key,” Abdou said in a university news release.
The challenge is to find ways to educate people about good health while reducing health care stereotypes, according to the study.
It was published online Oct. 20 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“Hospitals and other health care institutions with inclusive policies which welcome diversity and celebrate tolerance, both symbolically and explicitly, hold great promise for reducing health care stereotype threat and the short- and long-term health disparities that we are now learning result from it,” Abdou concluded.
The American Academy of Family Physicians offers advice on staying healthy.