Charity Watkins, a Black mother, experienced a severe misdiagnosis after giving birth, leading to a dangerous delay in her treatment for heart failure. Her story is part of a larger issue in the U.S., where nearly 1 in 4 hospital patients who died or were transferred to intensive care experienced diagnostic errors. This alarming statistic, revealed in a study published in #JAMA Internal Medicine, shows that nearly 18% of misdiagnosed patients were harmed or died, amounting to an estimated 795,000 patients a year facing permanent disability or death due to misdiagnosis.
Women and racial and ethnic minorities, including Black women like Charity Watkins, are at higher risk of misdiagnosis, with a 20% to 30% greater likelihood than white men. Maternal mortality rates for Black mothers are also on the rise, with the U.S. having the highest rate among developed countries. Black women with childbirth-related heart failure are often diagnosed later than white women, leading to worse outcomes.
Racial bias and disparities in healthcare contribute to these issues. Even though doctors may not deliberately discriminate, bias is ingrained in medical culture. Demanding schedules and lack of time with patients also contribute to diagnostic errors. Additionally, medical textbooks historically featured stereotypical images of white men, making doctors more confident when diagnosing them.
Patients with darker skin tones face further challenges in receiving timely diagnoses for conditions affecting the skin, such as cancer and Lyme disease. The Covid-19 pandemic also highlighted disparities in the accuracy of medical devices, like pulse oximeters, for people with dark skin.
Charity Watkins now works to raise awareness about these issues and help improve healthcare for Black mothers and others facing misdiagnosis, using her own experience to advocate for change.