Our doctors are continuously working to improve health equity, but that work isn’t without its challenges. In the first episode of Off the Charts, we talk with Dr. Zeke McKinney, an evironmental and occupational physcian at HealthPartners. He discusses building trust with patients, advocating for public health education and how systemic racism impacts the health of communities of color. Listen to our debut episode or read the transcript.

The challenges to building trust with patients

Developing a relationship and trust with patients goes long way in addressing health disparities. This can be a challenge, however, as doctors are under a lot of pressure to see patients as quickly as possible. With a volume-based approach to care, there isn’t much opportunity to take the time needed to connect with patients.

Dr. McKinney talks about making appointments more of a partnership between doctor and patient. Instead of pushing aside patient concerns in favor of a quick diagnosis, seriously listen to the information patients bring to the appointment. Spend a few minutes of each appointment talking through their concerns and what information they may have found online. It can even help to thank patients for being engaged with their health and making an attempt to figure out what they need.

Better community health education is needed

In Dr. McKinney’s opinion, the lack of health education is one of the major hurdles when it comes to building trust with patients. Many people come to their doctor visits without a basic understanding of what will happen during the appointment.

It can be challenging for patients to give details about their symptoms and concerns because they don’t have a good baseline knowledge of health. Teaching people when to see a doctor, what type of questions doctors ask, what their organs do and why all this matters could really help improve community health.

Systemic racism and how it affects health disparity

Lack of patient trust plays an even bigger role when it comes to health disparity. Dr. McKinney discusses how social determinants of health influence rates of disease, including COVID-19. Systemic racism impacts access to health care, health insurance, education and even transportation – all of which affect personal health.

Communities of color have been affected disporpotionately by the COVID-19 pandemic. They see higher rates of infection and death, and lower rates of immunization. Dr. McKinney talks about how doctors and insurance providers who address social health factors can close the health disparity gap.

Addressing vaccine hesitancy

There is still a lot of vaccine hesitancy in the world, especially within communities of color. Opening a dialogue with patients can help encourage them to get the vaccine and feel more comfortable with doctors in general.

The approach Dr. McKinney takes is to bring in more anecdotal evidence when talking with patients. Telling a story about a friend or family member is more relatable to patients than listing facts and statistics. Talking with your patients like you’d talk with your mom or best friend makes a warmer, more human connection. Listen to hear how Dr. McKinney worked to spread accurate information about COVID-19 and the vaccine in his community.