The Hidden Biases in Medicine: Why Do Black Men Fare Worse After Surgery 

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The point of surgery is to create both life-saving and life-altering benefits for patients needing a more invasive solution to many of the everyday health issues we experience today. Sounds like a win-win scenario.  

Surgeons spend years perfecting their skills, and citizens receive the exceptional care that extends their years or quality of life. 

So what happens when the evidence of post-surgical care shows a wide disparity in patient treatment?  

A new study published in the medical journal BMJ shows evidence that following elective surgery, the instance of post-op death reports in black male patients reports at a 50% increased rate compared to white men of similar age, background, and operation. 

For years we have already known there were racial disparities in U.S. healthcare initiatives. Everything from gaining access to quality care all the way to minority pregnant women being underserved for pain management has been proven and verified by peer-reviewed studies.  

There have even been similar research about findings related to children’s surgeries within 30 days from an operation, showing black adolescents are more likely to pass away than white peers. 

The BMJ study elevates the issue in pre-optimization care and co-morbidities prior to surgery. Those processes should all be the same, regardless of race, gender, age, or anything else unrelated to a specific underlying cause.  

While it would be easy to point at the individual healthcare facilities performing the surgeries, what is more likely to be a cause-and-effect relationship is structural racism. 

The stress placed on black men in the United States leads to poorer physical outcomes. That is because they are marginalized by practically every social service we have in place.  

From receiving care for their physical well-being to getting a taxi, our systems have yet to catch up to the idea of being racially blind.

The study was carried out by researchers at the University of California – LA. They analyzed over 1.8 million beneficiaries aged 65-99 that chose one of eight elective surgical procedures.  

The results show, based on data from 2016 to 2018, 3% of black men died following surgery overall compared with 2.7% of white men, 2.4% of white women, and 2.2% of black women. 

Obviously, there is more to understand in this data, and we shouldn’t shy away from “low numbers” when they demonstrate a clear relationship worth pursuing.  

This disparity validates many of the inequalities we know to exist in healthcare. It raises questions about post-op care, proper discharging procedures, and how we best serve underrepresented groups. 

Keep in mind the end goal is equal access. Everyone from the proud black man in Ohio to the blonde-haired man in Arizona to the Hispanic woman in Florida to the Cuban daughter in NYC needs to be able to access quality medical care when and where it is required.  

Furthermore, that access should be free from perceived bias that the chances of survival are worse purely based on the color of one’s skin. 

Unfortunately, bias creeps into the most secure of our social systems.

These systematic judgment errors occur whenever our personal beliefs and prejudices are allowed to interpret the world instead of objective evidence.

That is why we need to further study this interesting outcome.  

For all we know, there could be a simple solution just around the corner that no one has considered before.  

The hope of a small step that can be taken must be fostered and cultivated so we can look to a brighter future in healthcare and not fall into the trap that “nothing ever changes.” 

Evidence like this BMJ study should be viewed as a road sign pointing to construction or the bumpers kids use in a bowling alley.  

It should be a chance – a golden opportunity to adjust our medical systems so that they become more approachable to people of all faiths, colors, genders, backgrounds, or anything else we love to classify one another as. 

An excellent way to pursue new innovations is to open up surgical research. Clinical trials of the past tended to exclude women, people of color, and older adults.  

This often leads to skewed understandings of how different populations respond to surgical procedures, even when they are elective.

Instead of our leading treatments being ineffective, they should be the cream of the crop. 

That is why many medical professionals speak out against policy initiatives that curtail medical knowledge, practice, procedures, and options for patients.  

Whatever your personal beliefs, these restrictions get in the way of critical data we need to make better decisions about the future of American healthcare. 

The other crucial improvement we can make is bridging the information gap between medical facilities and current academic research.  

Whenever we see those medical dramas on TV where everyone and their cousin is reading all the latest insightful analysis, that tends to not be accurate. 

Even though most doctors work hard to stay updated on the latest information and practical procedures, the adoption of such research tends to be slow as it moves through the hospital administration structure.  

Never forget that financial reward incentivizes our healthcare system, not pure academic research.  

That means if we want to further research the causes of black men experiencing a higher death rate post-surgery, a team will need funding to pursue such inquiries. That takes money. 

The best thing we can do to ensure all people receive fair and equal access to medical treatment is to unlock the systematic biases holding them back from education, housing, community services, and any other opportunities.  


Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota

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