Our health is something that we all have, and unfortunately, the condition of our health is not something that we have complete control over. We do, however, have the ability to enhance the quality of our health. We all have choices to make regarding our lifestyle and how we manage our health to make sure we ensure that our health never deteriorates and we can live a long, healthy, and fulfilling life. We can control our choices to improve the quality of our overall health, and a significant part of enhancing the quality of our overall health is making doctor’s visits a priority. Being inconvenienced with taking time off work or readjusting our schedules should become secondary to the need to seek medical attention when needed. The unfortunate aspect of health care utilization is that people often wait until it is too late before they decide to become committed to ensuring that their health is maintained and monitored.
The fragility of health became very real to me about 10 years ago when my persistence to my doctor, because I was not feeling well, finally resulted in an order for a CT of the lungs to reveal I had pneumonia. The previous x-rays of my lungs were always inconclusive. My health was in jeopardy, and I knew that I had to become intentional in my pursuit to get better. My persistence of seeking medical treatment reappeared with a vengeance in 2013 when my favorite uncle was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer. He was a mechanic who loved his family, and he was a very talented cook. He was one of those men who never had a lot to say, but he observed everything. It was easy to tell that he was not doing well, but I had to beg and plead with him to allow me to make him an appointment at a local clinic after we noticed that his health was declining. He was a proud man who did not like to admit when he needed some help. He was self-employed with no health insurance. His case was so difficult that most of his medical team did not want to take him as a patient. One of the wonderful physicians believed in him, and she advocated for him. He went through major surgery, and he lived another two and half years that gave me and my family more time to spend with him.
Two days before my uncle passed away, I softly spoke to him and told him that I would finish my doctoral program and make him proud of me. He nodded his head, and I was blessed to keep my promise. I believe that if my uncle would have been treated sooner, the outcome would have been different. I did not know when my uncle passed away that I would devote my research efforts to racial health disparities, or that I would have such a passion for educating the African American community on the importance of seeking health care services. Through my sorrow, I have made it a part of my mission to educate African Americans regarding the importance of seeking timely and routine medical treatment.
It is so important for African Americans to seek medical treatment because of the high incidences of health diseases and conditions that plague that population, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. In my experience from working years as a certified pharmacy technician, too many people do not treat their health like the important commodity that it is. We sometimes feel that our health is something that we will always have, and that it will always be good. Unfortunately, I know firsthand that it simply is not true. Our bodies give us signs when things are not right, but it is up to us to pay attention. We sometimes shrug things off when we notice that variance in our health occurs in hopes that it will get better without us taking on more of an active role to ensure that it happens.
The goal of my research was to evaluate how the patient-provider relationship impacts the patient’s decision to access health services. Through my quantitative research, I wanted to delve into the rationale that African American patients have about how they make the decision about when they will visit the doctor. African American cultural norms, in addition to the historical aspects of discrimination coupled with provider biases, create a divide that can become evident during the patient’s visit. African Americans often feel as if they are not heard or a priority when they make medical visits. Chronic diseases and conditions often necessitate the need for medical visits as it pertains to African Americans, so African Americans between the ages of 40 and 65 were the target population that was studied. After reviewing the demographics within Shelby County, Tennessee, it was determined that the sample could be identified after evaluating the community right within my reach. It is apparent through observation as a former practicing certified pharmacy technician that African Americans are subjected to health disparities at an alarming rate. Those racial health disparities are prevalent because of the effects of the patient-provider relationship, limited access to health care resources, and health outcomes that are less than ideal.
A group of 56 participants were gathered through the help of alumni chapters of African American sororities and fraternities located throughout the greater Memphis area. All of the participants that were used to complete the analysis lived within Shelby County, had health insurance, had an English speaking primary care physician, and were African American. The findings evaluated the interactions that occur during the medical visits. The goal was to possibly uncover why African Americans do not go to the doctor in hopes of explaining why there is a prevalence of chronic diseases within that population. The findings did indicate that there is a significant relationship between the patient-provider relationship and the behaviors of the provider. Additionally, the behavior of the provider does contribute to the African American patient’s decision to seek health care services.
The participants that were evaluated stated that gender and assumptions that the provider makes about their education level and income did play a factor in how the provider interacted with them during the medical visit. The behavior that the staff exhibits during the medical visits of African American patients does impact the decision that is made to seek services, and the way that African American patients are made to feel during the medical visit does impact their decision to seek follow-up care and even their willingness to comply with medication compliance. It is important for the African American patient to be understood and treated with compassion, care, and concern. The historical component of the racial tension that African Americans have dealt with makes it pertinent for health care providers to treat the patient’s concerns as a priority.
In summary, there is a direct correlation between the relationship that the patient has with their provider and how the behavior of the provider is perceived during the interaction. It is important that African American patients receive ongoing education regarding the importance of seeking timely and routine health care. Providers need to be cognizant of how their mannerisms and responses affects their African American patients. African Americans do not consistently go to the doctor, which is evident by the staggering statistics of preventable and treatable conditions and diseases that plague that community. The goal for both parties within the relationship is to realize that it is impacted by both the actions and reactions of both sides.
Acknowledgment. The author would like to thank Cheryl Beers-Cullen, DHA, MPA, BSN, RN, CALA and Manoj Sharma, MBBS, PhD, MCHES for their contribution and mentorship.