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University Health’s Dr. Ilyunoluwa Agboola, M.D. contributed to this blog post.

Black Americans face unique health challenges due to many different factors, such as less access to quality health care, bias in the health care system, and lack of resources such as affordable housing, healthy food options, and education. African Americans also face higher rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer. Death rates from these conditions, as well as the rate of pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths, are also higher.

Health care providers need to understand these issues and work toward more equity for all. Black Americans also need to speak up for themselves and their families to ensure their doctors are meeting their needs.

Advocate for Yourself

Here are a few tips on how to become a better advocate for your own health and wellness:

  • Get regular checkups. Take control of your health by scheduling an annual visit with your primary care provider even when you don’t feel sick. This creates an opportunity for your doctor to get to know your health history and discuss the screening tests and immunizations needed for early detection and prevention of common illnesses.
  • Share your health history. Be honest with your doctor. Understanding your personal and family’s health history empowers you and your doctor to monitor and prevent diseases and conditions that may be genetic, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and certain types of cancers.
  • Get routine screenings. You should have screenings for certain conditions based on your age, gender, medical history, risk factors, and family history. Most women should get their first mammogram at age 40, and most people should get a colonoscopy at age 45. These screenings are covered at no cost for Community First Members. 
  • Know your body. Discuss any new symptoms with your doctor even if it does not seem serious to you. Clear communication with your doctor allows for potential issues to be addressed promptly .
  • Go to follow-up visits. It is important to attend follow-up visits after a new diagnosis or treatment. This gives your doctor the chance to monitor your response to treatment and address any new symptoms.
  • Research your doctors. Select a doctor you have confidence in and can communicate with effectively. Remember, you can request a different provider in your network if you choose.
  • Bring a trusted friend or family member with you. If you are nervous or afraid to visit the doctor or if it’s hard to understand or remember what your doctor tells you at your appointment, ask someone you trust to come along with you.
  • Ask questions, like:
    • What patient resources are available to me?
    • Can we discuss (description of new pain, symptoms, allergic reactions, mental or physical changes) if this is normal or if I need medication, treatment, or screenings for this?
    • Can we schedule a follow-up visit to discuss (results of tests, chronic condition, new symptoms)?
    • Would you recommend a second opinion?
    • Do I need further screenings?
    • What are my treatment options for my condition or disease?
    • What do I need to do to improve my health?


Pay Attention to Your Mental Health 

Your mental health is as important as your physical health, and Black Americans are more likely to experience several unique stress factors that can negatively impact their mental health.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that only 31% of the Black community with mental illnesses or issues go to therapy. A recent research study (Perzichilli, 2020) also reported that, when it comes to mental health care, compared to white Americans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are:

  • Less likely to have access to mental health services.
  • Less likely to seek treatment.
  • Less likely to receive needed care.
  • More likely to receive low-quality care.
  • More likely to stop treatment early.

What to Do If You Have a Problem

  • Get a second opinion.  If you are a Community First Member and you need help finding another doctor for a second opinion, please call Member Services.
  • Change doctors. You should feel comfortable discussing your health and wellness with your PCP, and you should feel that they are listening to you. If you feel your PCP is not meeting all of your needs, you have the right to change PCPs at any time. You can do this by calling Member Services or through the Community First Member Portal online.
  • Make a complaint. If you still are not satisfied after speaking to your doctor, you can call your health plan to file a complaint. Member Services will help you file a complaint and provide information about the next steps.

Take Control

Remember, you deserve access to quality medical and mental health care when you need it. It is your responsibility to seek out routine, acute (short-term), or ongoing care for yourself. Knowledge is power and for Black Americans, it is especially important to advocate for yourself and your family.

Beginning September 1, 2024 Community First Health Plans, Inc. will be adding STAR+PLUS to its line of health care products.

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