Research Highlights Digital Tools, Cultural Representation Among Medical Professionals, Proximity to Medical Facilities as Strategies to Mitigate COVID-19 Disparities in Black Louisiana Communities

July 1, 2021

BATON ROUGE—New data recognizes factors that may mitigate the health and economic effects of COVID-19 on Louisiana’s Black residents, including their relationship with medical providers, specifically concerning racial dynamics, distance from medical facilities and comfort with telemedicine. The report, “Black and Essential: Characteristics and Coping Strategies of Black Communities Amid COVID-19,” is a collaboration between David Stamps, an LSU assistant professor in strategic communication, and LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs. This work was funded by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation Community Crisis & Disaster Response Grant.

Lead investigator David Stamps, an assistant professor at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and an LSU Reilly Center Research Affiliate, found that Black Louisiana residents demonstrate knowledgeable use of social and digital media, demonstrate comfort with the use of telemedicine, and roughly half have access to a medical professional with a similar racial identity or background. Findings suggest that engagement with Black leaders, Black medical professionals and community members—including small business owners such as entrepreneurs and barbershop and beauty salon owners—may mitigate healthcare access and medical misinformation issues among Louisiana’s Black communities during the pandemic.

Existing data shows Black Americans, including Black Louisianans, face several factors associated with disparate COVID-19-related health and economic outcomes. While Black residents make up roughly 32% of the state’s population, the COVID-19 mortality rate of Louisiana’s Black residents is double that, according to Louisiana Department of Health statistics. Mistrust between Black individuals and the medical community, including lack of access to medical professionals who resemble the group’s identities and experiences, and limited incentives—financial or otherwise—that may reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase access to information may be at play, according to Stamps’ latest research.

“Access to financial resources and COVID-19 information should be a priority for organizations that seek to mitigate adverse outcomes among the state’s Black communities, yet which individuals deliver help and information are equally imperative,” Stamps said. “The intersection between health messaging; partnering with trusted Black Louisiana leaders, influencers and community partners; and the use of digital media technologies needs careful implementation.”

“This data represents an important step in understanding the health and wellbeing of Louisiana's Black communities, especially during times of crisis like we’ve experienced this past year,” said Michael Tipton, president of The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. “It will equip community leaders, healthcare decision makers, educators and legislators with practical information to support residents as they navigate the ongoing effects of this pandemic and the new impacts that emerge from this challenging year.”

Key Data Points and Practical Implications from “Black and Essential: Characteristics and Coping Strategies of Black Communities Amid COVID-19”:

  • 92% have access to smartphones.
    • The use of smartphone applications, social media messages and partnerships with influencers in the Black community might increase medical knowledge about COVID-19, vaccines and other health precautions.
  • 53% routinely visit a medical professional who does not identify as Black.
    • Concentrating efforts toward disseminating culturally sensitive information that supports non-Black medical professionals to help them communicate effectively with Black patients is vital.
  • 72% live 5 miles or more from a medical facility, including their doctor's office or an urgent care facility.
    • Identify transportation barriers (e.g., limited bus lines in specific neighborhoods), or note types of transportation access that should be explored to address issues of mobility and increase engagement with medical personnel.
  • Roughly 50% stated they were comfortable using digital media for telemedicine services.
    • This novel digital form of communication may address distance and transportation issues. However, how might efforts increase the comfort level among the population (e.g., providing digital literacy programs to encourage the adoption of telemedicine)?
  • Over 20% relied on multiple (four or more) financial resources for assistance during the pandemic.
    • Providing incentives—financial or otherwise—to close the knowledge gap, reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase information should be prioritized. These incentives may encourage individuals to share information and promote preventive health measures.

The full research report and summary can be accessed via the Reilly Center’s research webpage. This current work was funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Community Crisis & Disaster Response Grant and is a part of the “Black and Essential” consortium project.

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LSU Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs: LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs is partnership-driven, action-oriented and dedicated to exploring contemporary issues at the intersection of mass communication and public life. Its interdisciplinary approach draws together experts from diverse fields to advance research and dialogue. The intent is to inspire our communities to think deeply, take action, develop solutions and broaden knowledge. Underlying the Center’s endeavors is to strengthen and advance the Manship School’s national and state leadership in media and politics. 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation: The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation works each day to improve the health and lives of Louisianians by empowering everyday people to do extraordinary good. By building and funding coalitions of friends, families and neighbors, the Foundation hopes to build a healthier Louisiana, particularly for its children. The foundation is funded solely by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana but is a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity. In 2020, Blue Cross and the Blue Cross Foundation invested more than $14 million in Louisiana’s communities and nonprofits with programs and services reaching 6.4 million Louisianians.

LSU Manship School of Mass Communication: LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication ranks among the strongest collegiate communication programs in the country, with its robust emphasis on media and public affairs. It offers undergraduate degrees in public relations, journalism, political communication, digital advertising and pre-law, along with four graduate degree programs: master of mass communication, Ph.D. in media and public affairs, certificate of strategic communication, and dual MMC/law degree.