We hear a lot about racist police officers and how many feel that certain groups get victimized based on their ethnicity. As much as we wish to abolish the discriminatory behaviors of our society and treat everyone fairly and with respect, we run into race-related news headlines everyday. Starbucks, for example, has recently started a campaign to open up the dialogue about skin color so that (hopefully) we can make some progressive strides in our culture. However, this too has received criticism.
So this made me think….if racism still exists, is it possible that some physicians are racially biased when they treat their patients? And if so, are some doctors unknowingly favoring or discriminating against people based on skill color as well?
When I looked into it, I discovered a study from 2 years ago that studied that exact idea. 130 healthcare professionals out of Denver were studied to see if they had some sort of biased feelings on people solely based on their physical appearance. The test showed the nurses, physicians, and others photographs of faces and asked participants to quickly assign words to them. Words would either be positive in nature such as “joy” or negative such as “nasty.” This of course is what we know as the implicit association test, which has been used in hundreds if not thousands of other studies throughout the years. The doctors studied were mostly white (80%) and the other 20% were either black or Hispanic.
The results showed that approximately two-thirds of the doctors showed an unintended bias; 43% of the bias scores ended up being ranked as “moderate to strong.” After that initial test, they conducted a second survey to see if those implicitly racist views would effect the way patients felt about their healthcare professionals. About 3,000 of the physician’s patients assessed their doctors on a variety of factors like overall explanations, perceived sense of caring, etc.
All the physicians were ranked relatively highly at an average of 82 (based on a 100 point scale with 100 being a perfect ranking.) Black patients, on average, gave their doctors a score of 80. The lowest ratings, on average, came from the Hispanic patient group at 78%. However, the most memorable piece of the entire study was the fact that on average, physicians that did show signs on ethnic-biased responses received an average of 6 point lower score than their less-biased counterparts. This means that when a physician has negative thoughts about a patient, they apparently are able to see this.
However, this is just one study. Also, this was strictly in the Denver-area. Therefore, this 2013 study cannot give a definitive answer on the questions we have about healthcare and racism. Furthermore, other studies, such as one done in 2011 and 2012 at Johns Hopkins, showed that although some doctors showed signs of biased thoughts about certain races or social backgrounds, it had little to no impact on how they treated them. If that study is any indicator of the healthcare practice in the US, that’s “reassuring.” Unfortunately, again, it’s kind of difficult to compare studies to actually real-life scenarios on larger scales.
So what do YOU think?