Blog post

New survey examines racism, discrimination and health: 5 key findings

5 key takeaways from a national survey by KFF that sheds light on the experiences shared by many people of color when it comes to their health care needs
Hands of black patient talking to black doctor holding a clipboard

In the United States, people of color fare worse with kidney disease than white people who have it. Black and Hispanic people are more likely to develop kidney failure and are less likely to receive a kidney transplant. Through our Kidney Health for All initiative, AKF is working to change this, finding solutions to the problems that have created these health disparities. 

A national survey released Dec. 5 by KFF, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation, sheds light on the experiences shared by many people of color when it comes to their health care needs and reinforces AKF's drive to help ensure everyone can be as healthy as they can, in spite of equity barriers. 

KFF, an independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism, conducted the 2023 Racism, Discrimination and Health survey as part of its ongoing effort of "amplifying the voices of marginalized populations." The goal of the survey was to gather data to better understand how experiences with racism and discrimination in the U.S. health care system impact people's overall health and well-being — and hopefully find ways to address disparities. 

Over 6,000 adults responded and KFF reported that the results implied:

"…People's experiences in their everyday lives and in health care settings often vary starkly by race and ethnicity, highlighting the ongoing impacts of racism and discrimination within the health care system and more broadly. The survey shows that many challenges are shared across all adults, including white adults, but that Hispanic, Black, Asian, and AIAN [American Indian and Alaska Native] adults face disproportionate challenges and higher rates of unfair treatment due to their race and ethnicity, which have implications for health and well-being."

Specifically, here are five key findings from the survey:

  • Black (18%), Hispanic (11%), AIAN (10%) and Asian (12%) adults reported higher levels of unfair treatment when seeking health care than their white counterparts (3%), and Black women report even higher rates of unfair treatment. Unfair treatment included experiences like a member of the health care system: 
    • not taking the respondent seriously or not believing their pain
    • being rude or harassing the respondent 
    • making assumptions about the respondent
    • blaming the respondent for their health problems or conditions 
  • Given these experiences, 60% of Black adults and 51% of Hispanic adults say they prepare for possible insults or feel they must be very careful about their appearance to be treated fairly during health care visits. In comparison, only 33% of white adults felt they needed to take these same measures.
  • About half (48%) of adults with limited English proficiency said that the language barrier made it difficult to complete at least one activity related to using health care, including filling out forms or communicating with staff at a doctor's office, scheduling a medical appointment, understanding instructions from a health care provider and/or filling a prescription or knowing how to use it.
  • Having providers who share backgrounds with their patients matters. Black, Hispanic and Asian adults who said they have more health care visits with providers who share their racial and ethnic background reported more frequent positive and respectful interactions, like explaining things explained things in a way they could understand, involving them in decision making about their care or asking them about their work, housing, or access to food or transportation. 
  • Among all U.S. adults and across racial and ethnic groups, those who report experiences with discrimination in daily life are more likely than others to report adverse effects from worry or stress such as appetite and sleep issues, increased substance use and worsening of chronic health conditions. Of adults who experienced discrimination in the past year, 79% said they have had at least one of these adverse effects of worry and stress, compared to about half (47%) of adults who say they rarely or never had experiences with discrimination in the past year.

These survey results highlight how racism and discrimination in the health care system impacts people's health. In the case of kidney disease, early detection and intervention is key to managing and slowing the progression of the disease to avoid kidney failure — which can only be treated with dialysis or a transplant. Negative experiences at the doctor's office make people less likely to seek medical care, especially for routine visits that could detect early signs of kidney disease (which often does not have symptoms until it has progressed to kidney failure). 

Find out how AKF is working to address these concerns to ensure everyone is as healthy as they can be, no matter where they live, what language they speak or what the color of their skin is on our Kidney Health for All website.


Meredith Deeley

Meredith Deeley is the communications manager at the American Kidney Fund.