There is no shortage of reasons why Black people in America have a distrust for the medical field. The racial disparities are glaring. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Black and Hispanic patients receive worse care on 40% of the department’s measures, including pain treatment. Because of those disparities, it might be worth it to find treatment from a Black doctor.
It’s not a choice that just extends to Black people. A group of researchers from Penn State found that patients overwhelmingly prefer to put their medical care in the hands of someone who looks like them.
Black health care practitioners make up only 5% of doctors nationwide. In metro Atlanta, your odds might be better. While there’s no final complete count of doctors, according to data from the Georgia Department of Health, 21% of metro Atlanta doctors who recorded their race in a physician’s renewal survey are Black.
Below, Capital B Atlanta asked Black physicians their tips to finding a doctor, and how to advocate for yourself once you find them.
Are there benefits to choosing a Black doctor?
Yes there are! Research shows that having Black doctors can lead to better health outcomes. One study shows that when Black men have Black doctors, they’re more likely to get effective care.
It might be because Black doctors are more likely to understand common health trends within the community, but also because of the amount of trust a patient has to have with their doctor.
“We still have a lot of fear of health care, you know, stemming back from Tuskegee, and even further back than that,” said Dr. Anita Johnson, a breast cancer surgeon at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Atlanta.
Another study shows that Black people are more likely to agree to preventative medical testing, like blood work, when the suggestion comes from a Black doctor. There’s even a model showing that if there were more Black doctors, cardiovascular mortality could be cut by nearly 19%.
Reputable online resources
No matter what the medical concern, the first place a lot of people default to checking is the internet. Doing so can be helpful, but it can also send you down a rabbit hole of diagnosing yourself. As 21st century technology advances, so do the options when searching for a Black, culturally sensitive physician.
Medical professionals have created websites specifically for finding Black physicians. One example, Health in Her Hue, launched in 2018, has an extensive directory of Black women physicians. Other directories include BlackDoctorsUSA.com, DrCindyDuke.org (a site for Black women physicians), and BlackDoctors.us.
You’ll likely need to create an account with your email address to get access to most of these directories. Once you do, you’ll be able to sort through different insurance options accepted at each doctor, and you can search with your ZIP code.
If you have private insurance, you can start at your provider’s website to find physicians within your network. However, the sites don’t always provide demographic information. If you can get a hold of a doctor’s bio, see if they’re a member of the National Medical Association. While the organization takes all members, it has the country’s largest network of Black providers.
Community health clinics
If you don’t have health insurance, you might be able to find quality care at a community clinic. At a community health clinic, you might be able to get preventative care for a lower cost. You can look up the closest location on Healthcare.gov, which will provide care for free or a low cost. Some of these community care providers have locations in metro Atlanta, including Mercy Care at Restoration House, MedCura Health, and the Family Health Centers of Georgia.
Advocating for yourself
Finding a doctor takes some trial and error, and that’s OK! But our experts say if you feel uncomfortable, speak up. Even if you trust your doctor, you know your body, and it’s OK to seek out second opinions.
“When you’re having to see your physician, if you feel that you’re being heard, then that’s very important,” Johnson said.
Doctors should always be affirming.
“If the doctor also tells you what you can do for yourself in terms of the way that you’re eating, your lifestyle — not in a critical way — I think that’s a sign of a good doctor,” said Dr. Jean Bonhomme, founder of the Atlanta-based Black Men’s Health Network.
Also, don’t be afraid to empower yourself with knowledge. As a former primary care physician who now lives in Atlanta, Dr. Sydney Jemmott knows what follow-up questions to ask. You should feel confident about making your own inquiries.
“I usually will go to a reputable website, like a Mayo Clinic or maybe not something so generic like a WebMD,” she said. “You can walk in informed and say, ‘Well, hey, isn’t this how you would evaluate this concern?’”
Johnson agreed with the sentiment. Even after receiving your diagnosis, she said, going to one of these reputable websites can help you understand the care plan for addressing the issue in future appointments.
“I always encourage people to read about their diagnosis before they go to the doctor and make sure you receive standard day-to-day care,” Johnson said.
Word of mouth
Tapping into your own networks is key to finding a Black doctor, many experts say. Asking your friends and family who are in the care of a longtime physician can help you avoid the stresses of combing through databases online.
“A lot of times, patients have a relative who has been treated by that physician,” Johnson said. “They kind of trust their friends and family members more than they do the health care system.”
Bonhomme also suggested that potential patients pay attention to what people have to say online about clinics or doctors they’re considering.
“If a person has a good experience with a Black doctor … they publicize it.” he said. “You can look at a clinic on the internet, and basically look at the feedback of how people you know have responded to it.”
If you’re being referred to a specialist, you can specify to that doctor that you’d like to be seen by a Black practitioner. Jemmott said she does this often. Even if she doesn’t end up with another Black doctor, she at least knows that because she’s being referred by a doctor who her family and friends recommended, she can trust the doctor will have her best interest at heart.
“When I do it, I’m very clear,” she said. “I’m like, this is who I want my money to be going towards.”
Looking for a Black doctor can be challenging. However, our experts agree that by advocating for yourself, tapping into friend and family networks, and doing some research, you’ll gain confidence in finding the right care.