ABIM Foundation’s new ‘Building Trust’ effort will look at increasing equity and reducing systemic racism in U.S. health care

A clear majority of adults say the U.S. health system routinely discriminates, according to a survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of adult consumers say the health care system discriminates at least “somewhat,” with 49% of physicians agreeing.  

About one in every eight adults (12%) say they have been discriminated against by a U.S. health care facility or office, with Black individuals being twice as likely to experience discrimination in a health care facility compared to white counterparts. The survey shows that experiences of discrimination affect trust in U.S. health care. People who report being discriminated against in a health care setting are twice as likely to say they do not trust the system.

The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation is spearheading the Building Trust initiative, a national effort to focus on building  trust as a core organizational strategy for improving health care. It is working collaboratively with all health care stakeholders, including patients, clinicians, system leaders and others. Nine years ago, the ABIM Foundation created the Choosing Wisely initiative, which was nationally recognized for promoting conversations between patients and their clinicians about curbing the overuse of unnecessary medical care.  

Health care stakeholders must collaborate to identify and address contributors to bias, which worsen health outcomes, especially for people of color.

Richard J. Baron, MD, President and CEO of the ABIM Foundation

“Just like the deep impact of systemic racism being felt in all aspects of society, any form of discrimination fuels mistrust between patients and the health care system patients rely on to treat them,” said Richard J. Baron, MD, president and chief executive officer of the ABIM Foundation. “Health care stakeholders must collaborate to identify and address contributors to bias, which worsen health outcomes, especially for people of color.”

Apart from gaps in trust in the health care system, instances of discrimination are similar when looking at relationships between individual patients and their doctors. About one in eight patients (12%) say they have experienced discrimination by a doctor, with Black individuals being almost twice as likely as the general population to report discrimination by a doctor. More than one in five Black patients (21%) report discrimination by a doctor, versus 11% of Hispanic adults and 8% of Asian adults.

Although the survey shows patients and physicians enjoy mutually high levels of trust with each other overall, Black and Hispanic adults are significantly less likely to say their doctors demonstrate trust-building behaviors. For example, 86% of white adults say they believe their physicians trust what they say, compared to 76% of Black adults and 77% of Hispanic adults. Eighty percent (80%) of white patients say their doctor spends an appropriate amount of time with them, compared to 68% of Hispanic adults and 73% of Black adults. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of white adults say their physician cares about them, compared to 67% of Hispanic adults and 71% of Black adults.

Patients, clinicians and system leaders all want more equitable care and better outcomes, and part of the solution lies with increasing trust.

Daniel Wolfson, EVP and COO of the ABIM Foundation

“Achieving greater equity and less discrimination in health care requires more understanding about what it takes to build truly trusting relationships,” said Daniel Wolfson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the ABIM Foundation. “Patients, clinicians and system leaders all want more equitable care and better outcomes, and part of the solution lies with increasing trust.”   

Despite a clear majority of patients believing discrimination in health care is common, the survey shows 81% of physicians give their employer a good grade—either an A or B—in their efforts to address health equity. Physicians say they are optimistic that their health system will improve diversity and equity in the next five years. Sixty-two percent (62%) say their own health system will improve equity in patient outcomes in the next five years. More than half of physicians (56%) believe diversity in the physician workforce will improve over the next five years. Fewer physicians (49%) think diversity in health system leadership will improve over the same period.

The NORC research is comprised of two surveys, one with physicians and one with consumers. The physician survey is a non-probability sample of 600 physicians. The consumer survey is a probability-based sample of 2,069 respondents with oversamples for Black, Hispanic and Asian respondents and has a margin of error of +/- 3.15 percentage points. Surveys were conducted between Dec. 29, 2020, and Feb. 5, 2021. Last month the ABIM Foundation released research demonstrating diminished trust among physicians and consumers in health system leaders and government agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic.