8 Questions BIPOC Patients Should Always Ask Their Doctor, According to a Black Physician

Let’s be honest, no one likes going to the doctor (even if it’s for an annual physical). And when you’re a Black, Indigenous and/or person of color (BIPOC), there’s another level of stress and anxiety added to your visit. According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), the lack of resources and discrimination in the health space results in an “increased risk of getting sick, having more severe illness and/or dying of COVID-19.” Between discrimination, misinformation and, in some cases, being completely ignored, BIPOC patients aren’t getting the same attention as non-BIPOC individuals when it comes to their health.

“The relationship with a doctor is a personal one, built on communication and trust,” says Dr. Eva Beaulieu, internist and Pine-Sol spokesperson. “The goal is to get to know the doctor and have them get to know you.” This starts with asking the right questions. Here, Dr. Beaulieu shares the eight questions BIPOC patients should ask their physician to make sure they’re the right fit. 

1. “Will you take the time to hear what I have to say, answer my questions and consider my opinions?”

Health disparities make it difficult for BIPOC patients to be heard or taken seriously when addressing pain or symptoms. When you ask this question, you’re getting a better idea if your doctor is going to be accessible and attentive to your health concerns. While some doctors are quick to say yes, continue with more specific questions like, “How do you communicate with your patients? (i.e. email, phone, etc.),” “How often do you reach out to them?” or “Will I be able to reach you if I have an urgent matter?” From there you’ll be able to get a sense of whether this doctor is promising more than they actually deliver. 

2. “What preventative care services (i.e. shots, screening tests, etc.) do I need?”

Considering that BIPOC patients are often provided with poor quality of care and unnecessary or limited services, we have to take a closer look into the screenings and immunizations being prescribed to us. You should be given clear information and visual documentation on all services. So, make sure you’re asking, “Why should (or shouldn’t) I be taking these screenings or immunizations?” “Are all my vitals normal?” and “Am I up-to-date with the recommended shots and tests for my age?” 

3. “Why is this test being ordered?”

As a patient, you have the right to have access to all information especially when it comes to taking tests. In fact, research shows that women of color are more likely to avoid health care visits due to the cost and lack of transparency of tests and procedures. So, asking “What are the risks, benefits or complications?” and “What are these results going to reveal?” gives you more clarity (and peace of mind) on why it’s necessary (or not) for you to partake. It’s also worth asking if a test or screening is covered by your insurance or how much it will cost out of pocket so you’re not left completely startled by a bill.

4. “Why are you prescribing this medication? What are the side effects that I should be looking out for?”

Similar to receiving clarification for tests, it’s important to know the pros and cons of any medication you’re prescribed. Questions like, “How long will I need to be on this medication?”, “Can I take this along with my other prescriptions?” can give you more context on treatment and why it’s necessary (or not) for your health.

5. “Are there any alternatives to this recommendation?”

All patients should be given options and alternatives to medication and/or procedures. But as a result of insurance coverage, accessibility and racial perceptions, some BIPOC patients don’t experience this without a fight. And if you’re seeing a specialist, don’t be afraid to consult with your primary doctor and ask them if it’s worth getting a second opinion. Your doctor should lay out all your options as well as provide more information on why a medication/treatment is beneficial to your health.

6. “Is my health better, worse or the same from my last visit?”

Studies show that BIPOC patients are more at risk for health issues like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, yet aren’t given the resources or tools to work on their health. It’s essential for your doctor to not only provide stats but to create habits that can let you live a healthier lifestyle. Whether it’s adding exercise to your routine, fixing your eating habits or maintaining any medical conditions, they should help you keep track of any growth or changes year over year. “When you feel better about yourself physically, you also feel better emotionally and mentally. It’s never too late to adopt healthy habits!” Dr. Beaulieu expresses. Questions like "What do I need to do between now and my next visit?" "Is this normal?" or "How can I learn more about xyz?" can help you understand how to stay on top of your health journey. 

7. How can I reduce the risk of getting COVID-19?

There is still a lot of misinformation and/or limited access to understanding COVID-19. Asking your doctor how to stay safe, how to get tested and more about the vaccine can reduce illness among at-risk BIPOC populations.

8. Can you reiterate back to me what my concerns are? 

The number-one question to ask is, “Can we go over what we discussed today?” It is a documented phenomenon that BIPOC patients are misdiagnosed and disregarded (despite showing completely different symptoms). Don't be afraid to speak up. Medical jargon can leave you confused and overwhelmed. So, a recap with your doctor can pinpoint gaps and much-needed answers you have before leaving. This last question can make-or-break whether your doctor is willing to let you voice your concerns and make sure you are all on the same page.

How to Find a BIPOC Doctor

One way to have the best experience at the doctor’s office is by asking these questions to someone that looks like you. “There is great value in BIPOC patients seeking BIPOC physicians. [They] are more likely to seek medical advice when they feel that their physician can be trusted. They are more likely to open up to their physicians, discuss their healthcare problems and adhere to medications and treatments better,” said Dr. Beaulieu.

While word-of-mouth is the best tool to finding your own BIPOC doctor, there are also resources available like Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), Black Doctor Org (BDO), Therapy for Latinx that can help you find medical professionals. Plus places like Zocdoc and HUED can provide profiles to match you with the right BIPOC doctor for you.

The Big Takeaway

As a patient, you should have the opportunity to ask questions surrounding your health. The resources, services and information you receive from your doctor shouldn’t be based on race. As a BIPOC individual, your annual physical shouldn’t be an uncomfortable and difficult experience. The questions above are a way to determine if your doctor is the health advocate you actually need. At the end of the day, your physical and mental wellbeing is important.

“Being proactive about your healthcare can literally save your life. Take charge and make an appointment to see your doctor right now, because preventative health is the best thing you can do for yourself,” says Dr. Beaulieu.

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Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...