Traditional Medicine is exclusionary. Functional Medicine is not.
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equality in America over 60 years ago, and while strides have been made towards racial equality in the United States since then, our medical system has lagged behind. Black patients are not given the same care as white people with the same symptoms, as cited here. Implicit bias and racism remain alive and well within traditional medical practices throughout the United States; this fact is acknowledged by the CDC. But it is unfair to blame the individual medical practitioner, the traditional American medical system is to blame. The average time spent with a doctor in a traditional medical hospital is 13-16 minutes. The nature of traditional medicine is crowded waiting rooms and packed schedules, leaving doctors without the time to discover underlying factors and instead forcing them to rely on stereotypes.
The lack of diversity within medical research also leads medical professionals to make inattentive conclusions. The whitewashing of clinical studies not only leaves a large portion of the population under-researched, but also causes medical schools to teach unsupported claims about the health of Black and Brown Americans, seen here.
Lack of Diversity in Clinical Trials
Another factor of racism within traditional medicine in the United States is a lack of diversity in drug trials for cures to chronic ailments. According to Scientific American, 80-90% of patients who participate in clinical trials are white; yet, patients of all races are prescribed the drugs that result from clinical trial conclusions. Drugs for symptoms that affect all races, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are not tested on those who statistically use them most. Discrimination in drug trials was addressed in 1993 by Congress with the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, which required the FDA to include more women and people of color in research studies. Yet a 2014 study found that in the 10,000 clinical cancer trials examined, less than 2% of participants were racial or ethnic minorities.
The statistics on drug trials for diseases that principally affect marginalized racial and ethnic groups are especially troubling. Research demonstrates that:
African Americans are more likely to have respiratory ailments than white Americans. However, as of 2015, only 1.9% of all respiratory disease studies incorporated racial minorities.
African Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, but between 2003-2018, 95.5% of participants in multiple myeloma trials were white.
In 2019, the FDA issued draft guidelines for improving the diversity of participants in clinical trials, with encouragement to include more “historically underserved populations, including women, the elderly, and minorities.” The FDA noted that many people are excluded from experimental drug trials “without strong clinical or scientific jurisdiction.”
The lack of diversity in experimental drug trials leaves thousands of Black patients throughout the United States who have tried all other options without access to a new drug that could potentially save their life.
Implicit Bias within the Healthcare System
According to the CDC, Black Americans and other people of color statistically experience more illness, worse outcomes to an illness, and premature death when compared to white Americans. And while the factors behind such statistics are complex, a major component is the system of traditional medicine in America. All doctors in the US take an oath to treat all patients equally, but studies have shown that all patients are not given the same quality of care.
A 2016 study by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America demonstrated that “50% of white medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biological differences between Black and white people.” According to the same study, such differences include: the skin of Black people is thicker, Black people’s blood coagulates more quickly, and Black patients feel less pain. Such implicit biases around race often lead to a patient's race being used as an explanation for ailments like diabetes and hypertension. The lack of statistical data on underserved populations leads to misdiagnosed diseases and the absence of finding the true root of the cause.
Finding a Solution
Solving structural racism within American medicine will take years, if not decades. One temporary solution to the misdiagnosis and biases within traditional medicine is making the turn towards functional medicine. The practice is personalized down to the very gene, causing little room for medically-based implicit bias or racism. Functional medical practices also spend much more time with patients when compared to busy hospitals. This extra time with patients allows functional medical doctors to truly understand the patient and find underlying reasons for conditions that a traditional doctor might miss with their limited time and overloaded schedules.
At the Johnson Center for Health, Dr. Johnson does not claim to be free of implicit bias (as that would be impossible), but she takes the time to genuinely get to know her patients, learning their life stories and childhood factors that might be leading to adult ailments. Pain is never underestimated and prejudices are left out. This personalized practice of medicine is what allows the functional medicine approach to be inclusionary. Every patient is heard. Every patient is accepted. Every patient is supported to attain their potential for optimal health.
If you would like to schedule an appointment at the Johnson Center, call our office at 276-235-3205 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.