“Just Because You Have Ears Doesn’t Mean You Can Hear”—Perception of Racial-Ethnic Discrimination During Childbirth

Abstract [from journal]

Background: Black and Latina women in New York City are twice as likely to experi­ence a potentially life-threatening morbid­ity during childbirth than White women. Health care quality is thought to play a role in this stark disparity, and patient-provider communication is one aspect of health care quality targeted for improvement. Perceived health care discrimination may influence patient-provider communication but has not been adequately explored during the birth hospitalization.

Purpose: Our objective was to investi­gate the impact of perceived racial-ethnic discrimination on patient-provider com­munication among Black and Latina women giving birth in a hospital setting.

Methods: We conducted four focus groups of Black and Latina women (n=27) who gave birth in the past year at a large hospital in New York City. Moderators of concordant race/ethnicity asked a series of questions on the women’s experiences and interactions with health care providers during their birth hospitalizations. One group was conducted in Spanish. We used an integrative analytic approach. We used the behavioral model for vulnerable populations adapted for critical race theory as a starting conceptual model. Two analysts deductively coded transcripts for emergent themes, using con­stant comparison method to reconcile and refine code structure. Codes were catego­rized into themes and assigned to concep­tual model categories.

Results: Predisposing patient factors in our conceptual model were intersectional identities (eg, immigrant/Latina or Black/ Medicaid recipient), race consciousness (“… as a woman of color, if I am not assertive, if I am not willing to ask, then they will not make an effort to answer”), and socially assigned race (eg, “what you look like, how you talk”). We classified themes of differential treatment as impeding factors, which included factors overlooked in previ­ous research, such as perceived differential treatment due to the relationship with the infant’s father and room assignment. Themes for differential treatment co-oc­curred with negative provider communica­tion attributes (eg, impersonal, judgmental) or experience (eg, not listened to, given low priority, preferences not respected).

Conclusions: Perceived racial-ethnic discrimination during childbirth influences patient-provider communication and is an important and potentially modifiable aspect of the patient experience. Interventions to reduce obstetric health care disparities should address perceived discrimination, both from the provider and patient per­spectives.