We’ve all heard about the quality of-care disparity in our healthcare system among certain marginalized groups. Some ways these disparities manifest include provider discrimination, lack of adequate health insurance, high costs, and limited access to quality care. Numerous statistics prove this perspective is valid. For example, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, high blood pressure is 56% more common in Black adults than white adults, with a direct correlation to the limited amount of dietary advice and monitoring available for that demographic.

And I’ve seen the seriousness of these disparity issues firsthand. My law firm specializes in medical malpractice cases, and we have dealt with countless situations where the tragic medical outcome was clearly impacted by the individual’s race, age, ethnicity, or gender.

Let’s start with the case of an African American teen who went to the ER multiple times, reporting a headache, blurred vision, etc. The individual was misdiagnosed so egregiously that they were incorrectly admitted to a Psych Unit, when in fact, their condition was 100% physical. The victim ultimately suffered from a significant neurological deterioration and unfortunately passed away. We found that the victim’s constant disagreement with the incorrect diagnosis was disregarded, in large part due to their age, gender and ethnic background. Another case that comes to mind is that of a veteran healthcare worker who had a history of sickle cell anemia. Even knowing the history of the disease and the proper steps that the ER should have taken to address their issues, the patient died. We again found out that the victim’s pleas were dismissed, at one point even accused by medical staff that it was just drug seeking. Something that commonly happens in certain marginalized groups.

How can it be possible for an educated healthcare veteran not be heard or believed? Is it a lack of training covering the unique presentations of medical problems within certain groups? Or is it allowing stereotypes to limit the thoroughness of healthcare? And how do individuals within these marginalized groups combat these issues? How can we minimize the risk of being a victim of medical negligence?

First, you need an advocate. If you are obtaining results from a series of tests or an appointment regarding future care, you need someone with you to assist in asking questions. I can tell you from my own experience when I was diagnosed in 2021 with lymphoma cancer, when you are facing a serious life-threatening disease, the information and the diagnosis is very difficult to retain. If there is someone else with you, then between the two of you, you can recall the most pertinent points.

Second, educate yourself. One of the benefits of the internet is that you have data available for valid medical information. While you should rely on training and expertise of your healthcare providers, you play a critical role in your own healthcare and need to put the time in to educate yourself and understand what’s going on with your body.

Third, speak up and ask questions. If you don’t understand what the doctor is telling you, then seek clarification. Don’t be ashamed to ask your doctor to use words that you understand, so that you too will know what the doctor is talking about. Never leave a doctor’s appointment without understanding the status of your condition and your health.

Fourth, trust your instincts. If something does not feel normal and persists, do not delay in getting medical evaluation. In my own case, I had a strange sensation in my leg while exercising, experiencing it twice. I had it looked at immediately and had a diagnosis of stage IV lymphoma. My doctor told me that if I had waited even just 1 to 2 months more, I would have been in serious trouble. Just imagine how easily it would have been to let my schedule dominate my response and say, “I will get to it later.” Delays can lead to permanent injury or even death. Ignoring it will not make it go away.

Unfortunately, even after all that care and concern, you or a loved one can still become a victim of mistakes made by a healthcare team. If you are suspicious of a medical mishap, then you should seek advice from an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. While I believe every healthcare provider desires to be helpful, mistakes happen. Medical doctors have an oath to perform at or above the standard of care and to do it in an ethical fashion. Don’t accept anything less!

Finally, COVID-19 lockdowns caused people to hold off on many of their needs. I urge you to schedule those appointments you may be delaying. Be committed to your health! It can be a matter of life or death.

Eugene K. Pettis is co-founder of the Florida law firm Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm.