Aaron Henry, PA-C, MSHS: Regaining Black Male Patient Trust in the Doctor's Office

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Black men face significantly worse health outcomes in the US. Henry explains why the clinician needs to focus on building more authentic trust in their interactions.

Black men in the US have had markedly reduced average lifespans than each of White men and women, as well as Black women, for well over a century of such recorded data.1 A great number of historical, societal and cultural factors impact the crisis of Black male health disparity today—but as one expert explains, the issue is that the modern drivers of the disparity are not too different from the historical ones.

In an interview with HCPLive during the American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA) 2024 Conference & Expo in Houston, TX, this week, Aaron Henry, PA-C, MSHS, assistant professor of physician assistant studies at The George Washington School of Medicine & Health Sciences, discussed his AAPA 2024 session topic of improving trust between black men and health care. As Henry explained, the historical treatment of this demographic—particularly a disturbing record of unethical medical experimentation—“set the foundation for modern day mistrust.”

“You mentioned Tuskegee—there's still people alive who had relatives who were part of that study who have heard about that,” Henry said. “And if you look back in the Jim Crow days, where hospitals were segregated, and black people were always told, 'Don't go in the hospital, you will never come back out,' we still see those remnants today.”

Traces of the effect those events had on the health-seeking behavior of black men are prevalent in modern issues today such as the group’s initial reticence to receive COVID-19 vaccination.2 What these public health disparities require is more focus on the individual interaction; Henry advocated for caregivers to seek a more authentic, engaged and tailored approach with their black male patients.

“As providers, we're always asking about what symptoms they have, medications they've been taking, what brought them in today,” Henry said. “But how often do we really ask what matters to you? Like, why is your health important to you? And I think starting there is important for setting the stage for an authentic relationship, because it lets your patient know that you actually care about them, you care about what matters.”

Among those engaging question prompts may be asking what their patient’s values are: do they wish to be a good father? Do they often have to provide for their family? Do they have personal life goals including retiring early or getting to travel more? From there, Henry said clinicians can help better equate these values and goals toward better health.

Indeed, a great number of factors today may significantly influence the lowered life expectancy of black men—many that which will not be resolved in doctor’s office. But just beyond those efforts to connect better with the individual, clinicians can also work with their organizations and colleagues to connect with community leaders and help to better harbor trust among more than just the patient in front of them.

“We need more of an effort from the black community to have champions for preventative health care,” Henry said. “For instance, black men who are leaders in churches or throughout the community to say, 'Hey, folks, we need to get healthy. We need to do our part and look after ourselves.' Yes, there are historical issues, but we need to come to agreement that healthy men create healthy families and create healthy communities.”

References

  1. Bond MJ, Herman AA. Lagging Life Expectancy for Black Men: A Public Health Imperative. Am J Public Health. 2016;106(7):1167-1169. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303251
  2. Kriss JL, Hung MC, Srivastav A, et al. COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage, by Race and Ethnicity - National Immunization Survey Adult COVID Module, United States, December 2020-November 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(23):757-763. Published 2022 Jun 10. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7123a
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