Uncovering a dramatic disparity

A health care worker uses a stethoscope on a Black baby.

In the United States, Black newborns die at three times the rate of white newborns. However, new research from the University of Minnesota finds that Black newborns’ in-hospital death rate is a third lower when Black newborns are cared for by Black physicians rather than white physicians.

The study team, including researchers at Harvard University and George Mason University, examined 1.8 million hospital births in the state of Florida between 1992 and 2015 and found:

  • when Black newborns are cared for by Black physicians as opposed to white physicians, their in-hospital death rate is a third lower;
  • these effects manifest more strongly in more complicated cases and when hospitals deliver more Black newborns;
  • the size of this mortality rate reduction would correspond to preventing the in-hospital deaths of about 1,400 Black newborns nationally each year.

“Our findings demonstrate that when newborns and the physicians treating them are of the same race, that newborn survival rate is significantly improved,” said study co-author Rachel Hardeman, an associate professor in the School of Public Health and the Blue Cross Endowed Professor in Health and Racial Equity. “As we seek to close persistent racial gaps in birth outcomes, this finding is incredibly important.”

“This fact that Black newborns do so much better under the care of Black physicians warrants greater investigation by researchers and medical practitioners into drivers of differences between higher- and lower-performing physicians, and why Black physicians systemically outperform their colleagues when caring for Black newborns,” adds co-author Aaron Sojourner, an associate professor in the U of M’s Carlson School of Management.

Study authors say future research on this topic would serve to advance efforts to address racism in health care delivery and create a more diverse health care workforce.

Read also about how skin tone bias and age affect preterm birth rates of Black women.