American Medical Association's New Policy Acknowledges What We All Should Know by Now: Racism Is a Public Health Threat

Illustration for article titled American Medical Association's New Policy Acknowledges What We All Should Know by Now: Racism Is a Public Health Threat
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The American Medical Association (AMA), the largest association of physicians in the United States, this week revealed it has developed a new policy identifying racism as a threat to public health in America.


After denouncing systemic racism this summer, and identifying violent police interactions as threatening to the health of those in Black and Brown communities, in particular, the AMA announced a policy on Monday aimed at guiding health care practitioners and institutions to help mitigate racism’s detrimental impact on people’s health.

From the AMA’s release:

The new policy approved by the AMA, representing physicians and medical students from every state and medical specialty, opposes all forms of racism as a threat to public health and calls on AMA to take prescribed steps to combat racism, including: (1) acknowledging the harm caused by racism and unconscious bias within medical research and health care; (2) identifying tactics to counter racism and mitigate its health effects; (3) encouraging medical education curricula to promote a greater understanding of the topic; (4) supporting external policy development and funding for researching racism’s health risks and damages; and (5) 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,” said AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., M.B.A. “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.”

Inequities in health outcomes for Black people, such as the disproportionate rates of maternity deaths in Black women as compared to women of other races, have long been seen as markers of systemic racism in America’s healthcare institutions. But AMA’s new policy is to also explicitly recognize racism in its structural and cultural permutations outside of the healthcare system—identifying the societal harms which help explain why Black men, for example, have the lowest life expectancy of any other demographic in the country.

AMA says it will develop medical education programs and best practices for physicians, health care institutions, and academic medical centers to address the effects of racism on patients from historically marginalized communities. The association also plans to encourage federal agencies to expand research funding into the epidemiological risks and damages caused by racism—a laudable goal that will more likely be accomplished when a new federal administration is in place.

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This is a very good development for the following reasons:

(1) AMA is a powerful political lobby; they favor ACA but do not favor Medicare-for-All;

(2) they have evolved on some key social points beyond their problematic history;

(3) this opens the door for further influence by racially and ethnically diverse medical professionals to lobby on behalf of their marginalized communities for better services to impact quality of life and longevity.