Black patients may face an unconcscious bias in health care, studies say

Ellise Stokes

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Adding to the pile of institutional racism black people face, they may also have reason to be worried about the health care they receive. According to several studies, black patients experience unconscious bias from their health care providers.

Black people, no matter where they live in America, are likely unsurprised by the racial bias that they face on a day to day basis. 

Whether it’s the unwarranted comment about hair or being denied a job because of their “black-sounding name,” this bias happens often. 

However, it would seem fitting that the administration of health to preserve life would be free of this type of bias. Sadly, it isn’t.

In a recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine, black patients are often given less painkillers, even for children with complaints about pain. 

In a similar vein, black patients experiencing chest pains are referred for advanced cardiac care less often than white patients with identical symptoms. 

This can result in black patients not getting the proper care that they need while a white patient would receive that necessary care. This could potentially relate to the higher mortality rate of people of color. 

Black people are less likely to seek out bypass surgery and are less likely to receive kidney dialysis or transplants and treatments related to diabetes, such as lower limb amputations.

After recognizing this disparity in the treatment between races, people in the health profession have questioned what exactly causes the disparity. 

There have been a few theories to explain this problem. The first of which being the presence of an unconscious bias that all medical professionals harbor.

This “unconscious bias” manifests in the form of stereotypes against people of color or people facing financial issues. For example, a bias that black people feel less pain than other races can result in less effective care. 

These studies also found that doctors with this racial bias pay less attention to black patient’s personal and psychological needs, and make patients feel less involved in making decisions about their health.

The other theory is that medical school does not properly train doctors how to react with patients of different races. Medical school trains these doctors to work quickly to minimize visits. If a doctor feels stress, he or she may be put into a position where he or she may make quick decisions. This breeds an “unconscious bias” that causes doctors to treat patients differently. 

It is important to stress that these biases are “unconscious.” These doctors are not racists who have some preference of white people. This trend of unconscious bias against black people is even seen with doctors who are of color. 

It is more reasonable to see these biases as just a slight difference in treatment, even if it is built on dehumanizing stereotypes. However, it sometimes leads to improper treatments based on fear of the patient, or ignoring early stages of a serious disease.

Jessica Cumberbatch of The Huffington Post explains that when confronted with a doctor acting on racial bias, black patients have been encouraged to tell the doctor about said bias. Again, the word “unconscious” is stressed, because doctors outside of stressful situations tend to not have these biases otherwise. 

Black patients are encouraged to speak up if they feel they’ve been wrongfully treated. Until the cause of “unconscious” bias is found, black people yet again have to pay more attention to their surroundings or end up in dangerous positions.