Houston is known for many things: professional sports, the Space Center Houston, and energy, but it is also known for its diverse population. Two million residents live in the Houston metro area, and the makeup reflects the changing face of diversity in America — more than 22% are Black and 45% Hispanic or Latino. WalletHub crowned Houston as the most diverse city in the United States for 2021.
Although greater diversity is something to be celebrated, it does not always come along with equity. The gap for racial inequality with educational opportunities, income, and health care continues to grow.
At Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, our diverse group of physicians are tackling healthcare disparities head-on.
Disparities in Health Care
Like other cities across the United States, health care in Houston shows a symbiotic and problematic relationship between socioeconomic status and the health of a population. Some common influences for healthcare outcomes include:
- Access to nutritious food
- Safe housing
- Health insurance
- Affordable transportation
- Culturally similar healthcare providers
Even basic needs, like clean water and air, can affect a population’s health.
Victor Simms, MD, MPH, FACP, Chief of Internal Medicine and Chairman of the Clinical Planning Committee, is leading the charge at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic to help improve health outcomes for minority populations.
From improving access to health care to building a strong, trusting doctor-patient relationship, Dr. Simms and the team at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic aim to strengthen Houston’s minority health care one patient at a time.
Building a Diverse Group of Providers
Although studies have shown that minority populations enjoy better healthcare outcomes when they receive care from doctors that represent their same ethnicity, race, or language, only 2% of physicians are black men.
Improving the number of black men in the healthcare field could lead to a substantial increase in minority health incomes. For instance, an NBER study from 2018 found that black men with black male providers were more likely to agree to preventative procedures. With extrapolated data for the increased population of black providers, cardiovascular deaths of black men were comparable to white men.
According to Dr. Simms, the future of health care is well reflected at Kelsey-Seybold.
“Diversity is built into the fabric of who we are,” Dr. Simms shared.
At Kelsey-Seybold, the demographic breakdowns of providers and patients are comparable, which gives our organization a path to enhance the healthcare equity of the Houston community.
“Kelsey’s provider population is an excellent representation of its patient population,” Dr. Simms said.
Improving the Doctor – Patient Relationship
When providers look and speak like the populations they serve, racial healthcare disparities can improve, but there are other factors that can improve outcomes, too.
A study by the American Public Health Association found that black patients often reported lower-quality interactions with cross-cultural physicians. Factors like shared language or cultural norms can improve relationships between a doctor or patient of the same race.
For patients who have dealt with systemic racism throughout their lives, a doctor who looks, talks, and believes as they do can be a welcome change. These relationships can build the trust that is so critical for open and honest communication between a doctor and their patient. It removes barriers and creates a foundation of honest and open relationships. When a patient feels supported by their doctor, they are more likely to feel involved in their medical decision-making. They could then be more apt to agree to preventative procedures and treatments that can save their lives.
The Future of Diversity in Healthcare
The number of black male physicians may be low nationwide, but the future is bright for this critically important physician population. Dr. Simms is a proponent of Black Men in White Coats, a program that aims to increase the number of black men in the field through mentoring and exposure.
Founded by Dale Okorodudu, MD, a Texas physician, Black Men in White Coats engages with prospective black physicians through regional summits, social media, podcasts, and documentary-style videos. Successful black male doctors share their stories, mentor youth, and address racial barriers.
The future for diversity in health care is bright. Led by societal changes following the pandemic and social justice charges of 2020, medical schools are seeing a considerable increase in their medical student minority candidates — up to 40% in some cases.
With more black and Hispanic doctors in the Houston area, there is a hope that more minority patients will finally find the healthcare they need, along with physicians that help them to feel comfortable and cared for in their health journey.
Although there is a long way to go, Dr. Simms and the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic team see a better future on the horizon.