Below is the text of our letter to the editor. Not sure when or if it will be published:
Your editorial, “Unhealthy Suspicion: A Study Reveals Harsh Attitudes Toward Medicine,” (Post Gazette, February 6, 2009) is timely. You highlight our scientific finding that African American parents were more distrusting of medical research than white parents. Such high levels of distrust may be a barrier for enrollment of African American children into clinical research.
However, calling the response of black parents the “…height of irresponsibility -- and superstition...,” for their distrust of enrollment of their children in medical research, is offensive and misses the point. Racial discrimination in medicine and research would be easy to ignore were it not so well documented. As the Institute of Medicine reported in 2002, African American patients, even with the same insurance coverage, income and disease, receive worse medical care than their white counterparts. These are the facts, not superstitious conspiracy theories.
One solution is to increase the racial/ethnic diversity of the health professional workforce. Unfortunately, across this nation, the proportion of African American physicians, dentists, pharmacists and other health professionals is far lower than the proportion of African Americans in the society. Some schools of the health sciences have zero black faculty and few black students. Health professional schools in Pittsburgh are not immune to this dire situation.
As long as African Americans in Pittsburgh live sicker and die younger than their white neighbors there is a logical reason for their legitimate discontent. Now, more than ever our entire community must join the national campaign to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities. Part of that effort must be to hold our health care systems accountable to increase the number of minority professionals. However, it is not just increasing the numbers but it is making sure that our health professionals and institutions are ever vigilant in insuring that all patients, regardless of income, race, sexual orientation, religion or education, are treated equally.
As for increasing participation of African Americans in clinical research, there are promising strategies that we, at the Center for Minority Health, have implemented in Pittsburgh. Our Community Research Advisory Board seeks to empower community members to better interact with research investigators. This interaction improves the ability of researchers to reach African American and Hispanic communities, as well as better disseminate information about research studies in those communities .
Finally, our finding that 50% of white and 67% of black parents “distrust medical research,” is cause for concern that clearly extends beyond African American parents. Our academic health centers, here in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, must be more effective in educating BOTH black and white communities about the value of participating in biomedical and public health research. Moreover, health researchers must become more effective in translating our research into services that can improve the health of all of our families. This approach will go a long way toward improving trust between communities in need and the health care system.
Stephen B. Thomas (412-996-6555)