Black lives. Patient stories.

August 27, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

Though we live in a time of significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases, there is mounting evidence that racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive lower quality of care than non-minorities.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on unequal treatment concluded “racial and ethnic disparities in health care exist and, because they are associated with worse outcomes in many cases, are unacceptable.”

At Michigan Medicine, the Office of Patient Experience (OPE) continually searches out diverse patient and family voices to share their stories, experiences, opinions and perspectives in order to champion initiatives that help create more patient-centric programs, operations and research, and improve safety and quality. 

To better understand the perspectives of patients that have had experiences that may have been impacted by race, OPE partnered with patient and family advisors to share their stories as Black patients and family members at Michigan Medicine. Advisors spoke about their personal experience on a recently produced video, Black Patient Experience, which can be seen above.

“It’s scary when you fear for your life going into the hospital, as well as feeling like you’re going to be rejected or feeling like you’re not going to be saved,” said Heather Avant, patient advisor.

Assumptions impacting care

For patient and family advisor Michele Frasier Wing, the negative experiences during her mother’s doctors’ visits made her realize that she would need to be a strong advocate, not just for her mother, but for all patients who did not feel seen by their providers. 

Not feeling seen or heard is not an isolated experience at Michigan Medicine. Research shows that negative beliefs about race are deeply ingrained in U.S. culture, and people absorb these sorts of messages and develop unconscious biases. This happens even among people who believe in racial equality, and even in health care workers who are informed of the prevalence of disparities in health and health care. 

“The one thing I stress when I work with medical students is ‘what assumptions are you making before you even walk in the room? What assumptions do you make while you’re sitting there listening to the patient explain to you their medical history or where they grew up?’” said patient advisor Romona Williams. “And what impact might those assumptions and have on them seeking medical care now? You won’t know unless you ask.”

Stories provide hope for the future

Through all their experiences, advisors partner with the organization to help amplify bright spots, and improve where Michigan Medicine can be better. They believe in the ability to continuously improve Michigan Medicine and create positive experiences for patients like themselves. Hope that Black patients and families are seen for who they are as individuals, cared for regardless of the color of their skin or their background and not judged for circumstances often beyond their control.

According to Molly Dwyer-White, director of patient experience: “Our aim is to ensure that everyone across Michigan Medicine can deliver consistent patient and family centered care, where all patients and their family are welcomed, respected and involved as partners in shared decision-making to design and manage a comprehensive care plan. When we listen to patients and families, we will always learn something – and these stories are a way to do that more broadly.”

 Patient Story Library

Along with the special video above, the Office of Patient Experience has launched the Patient Story Library to support and amplify patient and family perspectives

Categorized by content, the library has a wide selection of patient and families telling their stories and what matters most to them. These videos can be used to bring in the patient perspective during team meetings, trainings, discussions and huddles. The stories within these videos may also help you identify how a patient may be feeling and what questions they may have as they move through our health system. 

If you are interested in sharing your story for the patient story library, please contact

Learn more about the Patient Story Library on the latest episode of The Wrap! You can find it via this YouTube link, or in the media player below. Please note, the media player is no longer compatible with Internet Explorer, so open in a new browser or find it on your personal device to take a listen.