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Black Patients Face Racial Bias Among Doctors

The disparity in health care between African-Americans and whites in the United States is not a new topic, but recent studies have shown that blacks may face racial profiling and bias from the moment they step into their doctor’s office. The American Journal of Public Health published a report stating that while often unintentional, racial bias can influence the quality of a patient’s health care.

Researchers made use of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure the subconscious racial bias held by 40 physicians. Though the results were varied, white and Asian-American doctors were generally found to favor whites more than their African-American counterparts, who were found to be more or less neutral in favoritism.

It was during actual patient interaction that the difference in treatment was apparent.

While black patients spent more time on average with their physicians, the appointments were characterized by slower dialogue from the physician, and the dialogue was generally dominated by the doctor. These traits can be characterized as the physician being condescending, even if unintentional. The establishment of healthy dialogue between a doctor and patient is vital to continued care, and make patient compliance with doctor’s advice and follow-up visits much more likely.

African-American patients in the study reported a low level of confidence and trust in their health care professionals, and did not feel as involved in treatment decisions. Again, while the physicians were not overt in their bias, subconscious behaviors and cultural miscommunications can result in patients feeling alienated from their doctor.

So long as health care professionals are unaware of these behavioral biases, black patients need to ensure that they are making the most out of their health care experiences. Taking the extra step to establish a proper dialogue with a physician can make all the difference, and help to shift them away from their biases. It is best not to assume that a doctor is treating a patient differently based on race, as profiling is often unintentional, even if it is present. The doctor-patient relationship should always involve communication both ways.

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