Is our health system treating all patients fairly?

Does your health outcome depend on your age, gender or race? Most people would like to think the answer is no. But studies show there are disparities.

Lauren Whomsley wasn't always active. For years, she suffered severe knee pain.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, my pain level was an 8 to 9 every day,” she said.

But three doctors told her she was too young to have surgery.

Surgeon Mary O'Connor says doctors often treat women like Lauren differently than men.

One Canadian study found physicians who evaluated patients with moderate knee arthritis were 22 times more likely to recommend surgery for males. In another, women were up to 23 percent less likely to receive opioid pain meds in the ER.

Studies also show minorities are under-represented in clinical trials. African Americans only account for five percent of participants and Hispanics make up one percent.

Doctor Linda B. Cottler is trying to change that with Health Street, an organization that recruits minorities for clinical trials and other services.

"It's important to have representation of all communities and populations in research,” Cottler explained, “so that their voice can be heard."

Health Street Community Health Worker Daryl Pastor educates people in his community about the program.

"Our job is to try to include as many folks in health research as we possibly can," he said.

Lauren found a surgeon who did operate - she's active and glad she didn't take no for an answer.

"I did a 5K two months after my surgery!" she added.

The most under-represented groups in clinical studies are Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, women and the elderly.

Doctors say it's important to study these populations because certain diseases and conditions are more prevalent in different groups.

BACKGROUND: Over 100 million American's live with chronic pain, and a majority of them are women. In 2009 a study was done testing 85,000 people in 10 developed countries, and seven developing countries. 45 percent of women and only 31 percent of men reported having chronic pain. In 2009 researchers at the University of Florida, and then again in 2012 at Stanford University, found that women were more likely to have jaw problems, headaches, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and more muscular and back pain. Multiple studies have been done to show that women get less help than men when going to see a doctor. One example was done by the Mayo Clinic where 2,271 men and women went to the emergency room complaining of chest pains and it was seen that men were looked at much more carefully rather than the women who were often overlooked. Another example can be seen by a Canadian study where researchers talked to 38 family physicians and 33 orthopedic surgeons and got them to evaluate "standard" knee arthritis patients, and results showed that they were 22 times more likely to recommend a knee replacement to men.
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MINORITY HEALTH: Clinical studies are an important way for research to be done and to get a representation of how it would affect the public. However, often times these representations aren't accurately portraying the masses because the majority of these studies involve mostly white patients. These trials are what determine if these new drugs, vaccines, or devices will be approved by the FDA for public consumption. By including more races and diversity into these trials then they can be sure that everything they approve is safe for all types of people and not just one race. Due to biological differences in races, our genes are all made up differently, and often one product that is so helpful to one group can be toxic to another. Here are some statistics to show the representation of minorities in clinical trials.
* African Americans account for 12 percent of the United States population yet only 5 percent of clinical trial participants
* Hispanic participants make up only 1 percent up clinical trials but make up 16 percent of the U.S. population
* Two-thirds of clinical test involving cardiovascular devices are men
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