Black Newborns Are 3x More Likely To Die When Cared For By A White Doctor

by Cassandra Stone

A new study about the mortality rate of Black newborns presents some startling statistics due to racism in healthcare

Black newborn babies are three times more likely to die when cared for by white doctors, according to a new study. Black babies are more likely to survive childbirth if they’re cared for by Black doctors in the United States. The differences in the mortality rate for Black babies versus white babies presents a stark contrast.

The study, published this week by researchers from George Mason University, analyzed data from 1.8 million hospital births in the state of Florida between 1992 and 2015. It shows that when cared for by white physicians, Black newborns present a much higher chance of dying while in the hospital than white newborns.

“Strikingly, these effects appear to manifest more strongly in more complicated cases, and when hospitals deliver more Black newborns,” the authors wrote. “The findings suggest that Black physicians outperform their White colleagues when caring for Black newborns.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health currently reports that, in general, Black infants have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as white infants. A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that Black infants have more than twice the risk of dying as white infants — according to a report that covered the period between 2000-2017 and was published this summer.

The George Mason study shows that the mortality rate of Black newborns shrunk by between 39% and 58% when Black physicians took charge of the birth. Racism in healthcare doesn’t just affect adults and older children — it also has a grave effect on babies who are just minutes or hours old. Despite infant mortality rates falling as a whole in recent years, Black babies remain significantly more likely to die than white babies.

The study also shows that the biggest drop in deaths occurred in complex births and in hospitals that deliver more Black babies. The risk of maternal mortality in Black and brown women is also two to three times higher than white mothers in the United States, according to the CDC.

Lead author Brad Greenwood believes Black doctors may be more attuned to social risk factors and disadvantages that can impact neonatal care.

“Taken with this work, it gives warrant for hospitals and other care organizations to invest in efforts to reduce such biases and explore their connection to institutional racism,” the authors wrote. “Reducing racial disparities in newborn mortality will also require raising awareness among physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators about the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities.”