Almost one-quarter of U.S. adults have experienced some type of discrimination while seeking medical care, according to the results of a study.1 Most commonly, it was racial/ethnic discrimination.

“The prevalence of racial discrimination in the U.S. healthcare system is stark,” says Paige Nong, the study’s lead author and a PhD student in the department of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “This is not surprising, given what we know about racism in the U.S. But it does highlight the urgent need for response in the healthcare system.”

Nong and colleagues surveyed 2,137 U.S. adults. Of the group that indicated they had experienced discrimination in healthcare, 72% said it happened more than once.

In addition to racial/ethnic discrimination, respondents reported discrimination based on education, income level, weight, sex, and age. “Our findings add to the larger picture of the role of racism and other types of discrimination in healthcare, with multiple implications for future work,” Nong reports.

Nong says researchers and ethicists play a major role in applying methodological and theoretical tools to respond effectively to discrimination in healthcare.

“Hospitals can also apply our findings by understanding how discrimination is operating in their own systems at the organizational level, intervening and dedicating resources to support patients,” Nong adds.


  1. Nong P, Raj M, Creary M, et al. Patient-reported experiences of discrimination in the U.S. health care system. JAMA Netw Open 2020;3:e2029650.