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Amanda Joy Calhoun, a psychiatry resident at the Yale School of Medicine, believes doctors and medical staff should be required to wear body camera equipment to prevent racism and medical malpractice from happening to Black patients.

Calhoun argues in her new article What if doctors wore body cameras?” whether doctors would be held accountable for medical negligence if body camera footage were present to film their unprofessional interactions with Black patients.

With more than a decade of experience in the medical industry, Calhoun has witnessed a number of atrocities happen to Black people.

“I have witnessed countless racist behaviors toward Black patients, often coupled with conscious and cruel statements. I have heard White nurses joke that young Black children will probably join gangs, and doctors describe the natural hair of Black people as “wild” and “unkempt,” the psychiatrist and esteemed author wrote in her latest article for The Boston Globe.

“I have seen Black patients unnecessarily physically restrained. I have stood in the emergency department as a Black teenager died from a gunshot wound while White staff chuckled, saying he was ‘just another criminal.’

Medical violence and discrimination aren’t myths.

A 2019 Pew Report found that 76% of Black patients have faced some form of discrimination at hospitals while seeking medical treatment. Participants believed that the color of their skin deterred some medical officials from giving them immediate care or properly treating their symptoms. 

Calhoun argues that body cameras could save Black patients from life-threatening interactions with doctors. She also believes that the footage could be used as evidence when investigating medical malpractice cases.

“Body camera footage is linked to reduced police brutality, and cameras in schools are effective against bullying. Monitoring the actions of individuals can result in self-checking behavior,” Calhoun said. “If we want to see a reduction in poor health outcomes for Black patients, we must hold health care professionals accountable in real-time.”

The issue hits home for Calhoun, whose sister almost died after doctors waited to treat her anaphylaxis. 

The medical advocate said her mother was forced to wait as doctors pondered whether to treat her then 9-year-old sister for a nut allergy, even though the youngster was wheezing. White nurses at the facility refused to treat her sibling with “urgency.”

“Without even properly examining my sister, the nurses informed my mother she would have detected a nut allergy earlier in my sister’s life if it was serious,” the Yale graduate penned.

When her sister finally reached the exam room, the primary doctor on call screamed at the nurses for failing to quickly address her sister’s allergic reaction. The doctor said her sibling could have died if her wheezing was left untreated.

Medical incidents like this have been going on for decades in the Black maternal health industry, and they are leading to heartbreaking consequences for Black mothers across the U.S. Black women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications, a harrowing reality as we continue to grapple with the maternal health crisis.

Calhoun cited the horrific death of Kira Johnson in 2016. The Los Angeles native died after giving birth to her second child during a 17-minute long pre-scheduled cesarean section that was “sloppy,” according to a lawsuit filed by her husband, Charles Johnson IV, in 2022.

Doctors ignored Kira’s request to be readmitted to the operating room after her delivery. Less than two hours after her surgery, Charles noticed blood streaming into his wife’s catheter bag; an hour later, a surgical emergency CT scan was ordered for Kira, but that scan never happened, according to the lawsuit. Doctors did not tend to Kira’s bleeding until midnight, despite her husband’s cries for help.

Sadly, the 39-year-old mom died due to excessive internal bleeding. According to the autopsy, Kira’s bladder was lacerated and not properly sutured during her c-section.

Body camera footage could play a large role in helping to fire doctors responsible for life-threatening practices and revoking the medical licenses of those guilty of discrimination. But Calhoun acknowledges that there are inherent pitfalls that occur.

Medical malpractice claims can be costly and time-consuming. Even with solid evidence, a study by the National Library of Medicine notes that 50% of the time, doctors have a good chance of winning a suit due to the medical system’s faulty inner workings. But it’s a solution that could bring us a step closer to ending medical discrimination in the Black community.

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