Editorial: Listing race should be up to doctors

By Staff Editorial

‘ ‘ ‘ When it comes to health care for minority patients, Highmark Inc. has made an innovative… ‘ ‘ ‘ When it comes to health care for minority patients, Highmark Inc. has made an innovative yet slightly radical proposal. The health insurance company has started asking its customers if they want doctors’ race or ethnicity listed in their physician directory. Conducted with an automated telephone survey, the proposal raises concerns regarding racial profiling. Some people, however, support this act as a measure to reduce health care disparity. Highmark called about 3,500 customers thus far and plans on contacting up to 100,000, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Highmark chose to conduct the survey because national studies reveal that minorities do not receive the same quality of health care as white people. The revised directory would potentially help minority patients select a doctor with whom they feel more comfortable. According to Dr. Som Sasha, associate professor of medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University, one in five minority patients feels more comfortable under the care of a minority physician. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ No matter the context, race is always a touchy subject, even in today’s more socially advanced society. Examining Highmark’s plan exclusively in terms of race undercuts the real significance of it. Going to the doctor can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience for a variety of reasons. When it comes to our bodies, the exchange of information can get pretty personal. But whether the patient is describing symptoms or asking for health advice, hesitance on the part of the patient should be minimized to ensure he’s really getting the treatment he needs. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Compared to other demographic groups, poorer minorities have lower rates in terms of going to the doctor’s. Instead of relying on a primary physician, some head to the emergency rooms of hospitals when they need medical attention. Assuredly, this policy seems slightly extreme amid our 21st century sense of political correctness. But if this plan will truly encourage disadvantaged minorities to increase their attendance at the doctor’s office, then its results will justify its initial impression. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ To limit the discriminative notion of this plan, perhaps it would be in Highmark’s best interest to give doctors the option of whether they want their race or ethnicity listed in the directory. Those doctors who agree with the real aims of this proposal could take advantage of its offerings, whereas those who don’t support it wouldn’t have to follow it. There exists the chance that none or very few doctors would list their race or ethnicity, but it’s likely that at least some would comply. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Aside from supposed discriminative undertones, some critics might say the policy would unnecessarily categorize doctors. If their race is listed, then maybe their sex should also be marked, for example. There’s some validity to the critics’ concerns, but they forget to take a realistic and holistic outlook on the issue. The overall impact of this policy shouldn’t be shunned, even if it deals with a difficult subject.’ ‘ ‘