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New Study Addressing Racial Health Disparities in Infant Mortality

The infant mortality rate in the United States is more than twice as high for Black infants as it is for white infants. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births compared with 4.6 per 1,000 as of 2018.

Studies are beginning to explore whether receiving care from a physician of the same race or gender as the patient, called concordance, makes a difference in health disparities.

One of those studies is of Black newborns and suggests that for these babies, receiving care from a Black physician does make a difference.

According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, researchers from George Mason University, examined data on hospital births in Florida from 1992 to 2015, and found that when attended by white physicians, Black newborns experienced 430 more deaths per 100,000 births than white newborns. But when cared for by a Black physician, the excess deaths dropped to 173 per 100,000 above that of white newborns.

Black newborns still died at a higher rate than white newborns; a doctor’s race is only one strand of many that can entwine to create disparities. Nor does the study suggest that Black newborns should receive treatment only from Black physicians, the researchers say.

“Our study provides the first evidence that the Black-White newborn mortality gap is smaller when Black MDs provide care for Black newborns than when White MDs do, lending support to research examining the importance of racial concordance in addressing health care inequities. Black babies have been dying at disproportionate rates since as long as we’ve collected data. The time is now to change this and to ensure that Black infants are afforded the opportunity to thrive,” said Rachel Hardeman, co-author of the study.

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