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Research shows U.S. children of color get worse health care across the board

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

And on the subject of sports injuries and children's health, new research takes a look at racial disparities in pediatrics. The findings include several examples of how differently children of color in the U.S. are treated by the medical community when compared to white children. NPR's Maria Godoy reports.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: The disparities in kids' health care exist whether you're looking at care for newborns or surgery for appendicitis or getting a diagnosis and treatment for developmental disabilities or ADHD. So says Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, who oversaw the research.

NIA HEARD-GARRIS: No matter where you look, there are disparities in care for pretty much every racial and ethnic group that's not white.

GODOY: Heard-Garris is a researcher at Northwestern University and a pediatrician at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. She and her colleagues reviewed dozens of recent studies examining the quality of care children receive. She says there are lots of examples of inequalities across specialties, whether it's longer wait times to be seen or getting diagnostic imaging or getting basic pain management.

HEARD-GARRIS: When a kid breaks a bone, when they have appendicitis, when they have a migraine, they should be treated for their pain.

GODOY: But the findings showed kids of color were less likely to get treatment for their pain than their white peers. The researchers only looked at studies of children who had health insurance.

HEARD-GARRIS: And so we cannot blame the lack of insurance of causing these disparities.

GODOY: Researchers say the causes of these disparities are wide-ranging, but they're ultimately rooted in structural racism, including unequal access to healthy housing and economic opportunities, unconscious bias among health care providers and disparate policing of kids of color. Dr. Monique Jindal is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago and one of the lead authors of the review. She says addressing these disparities may ultimately require sweeping policy changes.

MONIQUE JINDAL: It's really understanding how each of those sectors are intertwined within each other and how we cannot have quality or equitable health care without addressing each of the policy issues within the other sectors of society.

GODOY: That could take a long time. In the meantime, Dr. Nia Heard-Garris says health care providers should check their own biases.

HEARD-GARRIS: Even if you are the most progressive provider, you're still going to have blinders - and making sure you're checking on those, challenging those and even reviewing your own chart.

GODOY: The findings appear in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. Maria Godoy, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.

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