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COVID-19 in minority communities prompt doctors to tell patients to look for racial health disparities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The data that shows health disparities have led to a disproportionate number of minorities contracting the coronavirus is just the tip of the iceberg, according to a local doctor.

“COVID-19 is just one disparity,” said Dr. Connie Graves, of Tennessee Maternal and Fetal Medicine. “There are health disparities in maternal health care, infant care, heart disease and diabetes. There are disparities in surgical care. It is across the board and a reflection of our health care system.”

Dr. Graves has advocated for inclusive protocols at Saint Thomas Health for most of her career.

“Protocols don’t allow you to have judgment like ‘I think this patient doesn’t need this because her blood pressure is always high.’ When you meet criteria for certain disease processes or treatments having these protocols in place are important,” Dr. Graves said.

The physician encourages her female patients, especially women of color, to ask lots of questions and never settle.

“One of the things patients tell me all the time is they don’t feel like they’re heard and I don’t think that’s just an issue of women of color, but women in general,” she said.

Dr. Graves instructs patients to go to their appointments prepared. Bring a check-list of questions and concerns, a list of your medications, a list of your allergies and a record of your family’s medical history.

“I cannot stress that enough. We are who we are, and so if your family has a history of hypertension or high blood pressure or diabetes you may be at risk for those disease processes,” she said.

In addition to doctors and patients recognizing that racial health disparities exist, Dr. Graves said more could be done at the national level.

“I think one of the places we could be better involved is on the insurance and federal level in terms of how women’s health is delivered to patients. In this supporting example, in the state of Tennessee if you’re pregnant you have insurance. Six to eight weeks after your pregnancy you have no insurance. If we identify patients who need long-term health care there is no way to get them long-term healthcare,” she said.