AMA releases policies on race in healthcare

November 17, 2020
Keith A. Reynolds

The policies identify race as a social construct, and racism as a public health threat.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has released policies aimed at clarifying the role of race in healthcare and confronting the nation’s history of racism and injustice.

At the AMA Special Meeting of the House of Delegates (HOD), the nation’s leading physicians voted to adopt a pair of policies recognizing that race is a social construct, and not a biological one. This is aimed at advancing data-driven, anti-racist concepts which challenge the current clinical application of race and its effects on vulnerable patient populations, according to a news release.

The policies note that when race is accepted as a biological category defined by genetic traits or biological differences it exacerbates health disparities and leads to detrimental health outcomes for marginalized and minority communities, the release says.

At the same time, the HOD adopted a policy that recognizes racism as a public health threat and commits the AMA to actively work on dismantling racist policies and practice across healthcare.

According to a separate news release, the policy opposes all forms of racism as a threat to public health and calls on the AMA to take prescribed steps to combat racism. These include:

  • Acknowledging the harm caused by racism and unconscious bias within medical research and health care
  • Identifying tactics to counter racism and mitigate its health effects
  • Encouraging medical education curricula to promote a greater understanding of the topic
  • Supporting external policy development and funding for researching racism’s health risks and damages
  • Working to prevent influences of racism and bias in health technology innovation.

“The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities. Without systemic and structural-level change, health inequities will continue to exist, and the overall health of the nation will suffer,” AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards, MD, MBA, says in the release. “As physicians and leaders in medicine, we are committed to optimal health for all, and are working to ensure all people and communities reach their full health potential. Declaring racism as an urgent public health threat is a step in the right direction toward advancing equity in medicine and public health, while creating pathways for truth, healing, and reconciliation.”

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