Black newborns 3 times more likely to die when cared for by White doctors

The findings are based on data from 1.8 million hospital births in Florida between 1992 and 2015.

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Black newborn babies in the United States are more likely to die when in the care of White doctors, according to a new study. 

Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that the odds of survival increase when Black infants are cared for by Black doctors.

The findings are based on data from 1.8 million hospital births in Florida between 1992 and 2015, the Duluth News Tribune reports. The records show that Black newborns with a white doctor had a higher death rate compared to newborns with a Black doctor. 

The findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

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“We wanted to understand the relationship between physician race and patient outcomes,” said lead author on the study Aaron Sojourner, an associate professor of economics at the Carlson School of Management. 

“Our findings demonstrate that when newborns and the physicians treating them are of the same race, that newborn survival rate is significantly improved,” said study co-author Rachel Hardeman. “This study is the first piece of evidence that demonstrates the effect of physician-patient racial concordance on the Black-white mortality gap. As we seek to close persistent racial gaps in birth outcomes, this finding is incredibly important.”

Researchers found that Systemic institutional racism within healthcare is mostly perpetuated by non-Black medical professionals, as they discovered no mortality risks for white babies born to Black doctors. 

“This fact that Black newborns do so much better under the care of Black physicians warrants greater investigation by researchers and medical practitioners into drivers of differences between higher- and lower-performing physicians, and why Black physicians systemically outperform their colleagues when caring for Black newborns,” said Sojourner. 

The study does not address how specifically Black newborns die in the hands of white doctors, but researchers claim that Black infant mortality averages to an “additional 1,400 deaths annually,” CNN reports.

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“We’ve known for a long time that there are big racial disparities in newborn mortality,” Sojourner said. “I think it’s hopeful to have found something associated with large reductions in that penalty… It does suggest that Black doctors are doing a better job on average in caring for Black newborns, and that we should learn from them.”

The authors also noted that “The findings suggest that Black physicians outperform their White colleagues when caring for Black newborns.”

They added, “Reducing racial disparities in newborn mortality will also require raising awareness among physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators about the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities.”

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