It is well-documented that implicit biases among healthcare providers can affect the quality of care that racial/ethnic minority patients receive.1 Furthermore, lack of racial/ethnic diversity in healthcare professions2 creates language and cultural barriers that can discourage people from getting needed care.
Limited evidence suggests that increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the healthcare workforce can expand healthcare access. According to the Health Professionals for Diversity Coalition,3 African-American, Hispanic and Native-American physicians are more likely to practice in underserved communities and to treat larger numbers of minority patients than white physicians. Additionally, racial and ethnic minority patients are generally more satisfied with their care – and are more likely to report receiving higher-quality care – when treated by a health professional of their own racial or ethnic background.4
Provider diversity is a core component of state and federal approaches to ensuring that the healthcare workforce can meet patient needs, as well as a critical step in the path towards health equity. State and/or federal policy options for diversifying the healthcare workforce, as identified in Families USA’s Framework for Advancing Health Equity and Value,5 include:
1. Staats, Cheryl, et al., "Science: Implicit Bias Review 2015," Kirwan Institute (May, 2015).
2. Although people of color are projected to be a majority of the population within a few decades, only 11 percent of physicians and 15 percent of registered nurses are African American, Hispanic, or American Indian and Alaska Native. See: Families USA Health Equity Task Force, "A Framework for Advancing Health Equity and Value: Policy Options for Reducing Health Inequities by Transforming Health Care Delivery and Payment Systems," Washington, D.C. (June 2018).
3. "Fact Sheet: The Need for Diversity in the Health Care Workforce," Health Professionals for Diversity Coalition (November, 2011).
4. See: Cooper-Patrick, Lisa et al., “Race, gender, and partnership in the patient-physician relationship,” JAMA, Vol. 282, No. 6 (Aug. 11, 1999). See also: Powe, Neil R. and Lisa A. Cooper, "Disparities in Patient Experiences, Health Care Processes, and Outcomes: The Role of Patient-Provider Racial, Ethnic, and Language Concordance," The Commonwealth Fund, Washington, D.C. (July 1, 2004).
5. Hernandez-Cancio, Sinsi, et al. "A Framework for Advancing Health Equity and Value: Policy Options for Reducing Health Inequities by Transforming Health Care Delivery and Payment Systems," Families USA.