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Police Brutality and Mistrust in Medical Institutions



People bring the social contexts of their lives into the medical encounter. As a social determinant of health, police brutality influences physical and mental health. However, negative experiences with institutions such as law enforcement might decrease trust in other institutions, including medical institutions. Mistrust might limit engagement with the healthcare system and affect population health. This study investigates the relationship between police brutality and medical mistrust and assesses whether it varies by race.

Basic Procedures

Data were obtained from a 2018 cross-sectional survey of adults living in urban areas in the USA (N = 4389). Medical mistrust was regressed on police brutality (experiences and appraisal of negative encounters with the police), controlling for socio-demographics, health status, and healthcare access. Means of mistrust were predicted by racial group after including interactions between police brutality and race.

Main Findings

Respondents who had negative encounters with the police, even if they perceived these encounters to be necessary, had higher levels of medical mistrust compared to those with no negative police encounters. Police brutality increased mistrust for all racial groups.

Principal Conclusions

Conditions outside the medical system such as experiencing police brutality impact relationships with the medical system. Given that clinicians are in a unique position of having access to firsthand information about the struggles and injustices that shape their patients’ health, advocating for systemic change on behalf of their patients might build trust.

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This study was supported by Lehigh University’s Faculty Innovation Grant.

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Correspondence to Sirry Alang.

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Alang, S., McAlpine, D.D. & Hardeman, R. Police Brutality and Mistrust in Medical Institutions. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities 7, 760–768 (2020).

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  • Police brutality
  • Medical mistrust
  • Race and medical mistrust
  • Police brutality and medical mistrust
  • Police brutality and health