It is well-known that race and class overlap. However, few are aware that the disadvantages of a darker skin tone extend to the realm of health care. Children of color face a disparity both in terms of access to health care and timely diagnoses. To no fault of their own, those with a darker shade of skin are that much more likely to progress through their formative years with undiagnosed conditions, low-quality care, or no care at all.
Undiagnosed Conditions in Children of Color is a Matter of Access
Early referrals to medical specialists combined with timely and accurate diagnosis pave a path toward effective pharmacological treatments and optimal outcomes. Above all, access is fundamental to reaching optimal outcomes. A study conducted in 2019 reveals 33% of African-American households do not have high-speed internet. Furthermore, less than 50% of such households have a computer. These statistics are relevant as medical diagnoses and certain aspects of care have shifted to the internet in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Telehealth services will likely continue to expand as society becomes more tech-dependent in the years ahead. Those who own a computer and have access to high-speed internet are much more likely to have timely access to medical guidance, including accurate diagnoses and the proper treatment modalities.
The rate of autism, child obesity, depression, and many other pathologies are increasing by the year, indicating there is a growing need for timely diagnosis and intervention. Sadly, children of racial minorities are less likely to be diagnosed as autistic or diagnosed with other health conditions early in life simply because they lack access to medical professionals.
Children of color also face challenges in terms of logistics. The availability of medical analysis and care is meaningless if it cannot be accessed with relative ease. Proximity to medical care providers along with transportation challenges and even the hurdles presented by parent work schedules preclude some children of color from receiving timely diagnoses and consistent, high-quality care.
Diagnosis Does NOT Guarantee Treatment
Asian and African American children whose primary language is not English and who lack health insurance are significantly less likely to receive a developmental disability diagnosis. However, even when the hurdles of access and diagnosis are overcome, there is still the issue of treatment. Studies show about 7% of preschool and kindergarten-age children are diagnosed with developmental disabilities. However, only two-thirds of those youngsters are provided with the appropriate medical services.
Children of color are less likely to be diagnosed with a mental or physical health problem, yet the problem compounds when you factor in those same minorities are less likely to be provided with medical care. The moral of this story is: an objective assessment of a child’s mental or physical development is not enough in and of itself.
Why Does the Disparity in Treatment Matter?
It is often said that justice matters. In reality, justice is rarely served. Temporarily deviate from the narrative of the mainstream media and it will become abundantly clear that injustice is the norm. In the context of health care diagnosis and treatment disparity for children based on race, there is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed for the greater good of society.
Poor mental and physical health outcomes resulting from health care inequity ultimately cost the entirety of society that much more in the following ways:
- Delayed cognitive development
- Delayed formation of interpersonal relationships
- Lower workforce participation rate
- Increased healthcare spending to address undiagnosed conditions through adulthood
- Shorter lifespans
If the collective of society moves forward without addressing the growing healthcare gap between children of color and Caucasian children, it will widen the expanding fissure between races and classes, paving a path toward continued social disharmony.
It is often said that those who succeed in catalyzing social change are individuals who provide solutions to problems rather than merely highlighting inequities. The disparity of health care diagnoses and treatment in children of color can be rectified through enhancements to the pediatric medical care system.
Alternatively, we could replicate the universal healthcare models that thrive in Canada and the Scandinavian countries, ensuring equal access to healthcare for all individuals regardless of their age, income, and race.