Alienation Due To Implicit Bias In The Healthcare Sector
Health care disparities due to implicit bias have long been a problem in our medical system, affecting the quality of care patients receive whether they’re seeking emergency treatment or consulting a specialist. Although the problem is not new, the COVID-19 pandemic and the contemporary social justice movement have brought the conversation about these disparities to the forefront of the national conversation in a new way. As a result, many medical schools are working to bring awareness of unconscious bias into their curriculum in an effort to improve health equity.
How Implicit Bias Affects Care
How do unconscious beliefs influence the way health care providers treat their patients? Despite the training that providers receive, underlying stereotypical beliefs can and do shape the ways they interact with, communicate about, and treat patients of different genders, ethnicities, races, sexual orientations, and disability statuses. A January 2022 study of nearly 2 million medical records conducted by the University of Oregon illustrated clear differences in how physicians dealt with patients based on gender and race. [i] The analysis showed that providers used more impersonal language with women than with men. In addition, providers were less attentive to the negative experiences of Black patients than of White patients.
Medical training should, ideally, prepare providers to make care decisions based on facts. However, research has also shown that false beliefs persist despite this training. A 2016 study by the University of Virginia examined the preconceptions of over 200 White medical students and residents. It found that nearly half of the group held false ideas about biological differences between Black and White individuals, such as thinking that Black people have stronger immune systems and are less sensitive to pain than white people. That thinking had a direct effect on the care provided, as those who held those beliefs were more likely to rate Black patients’ pain levels as lower than White patients’ and to recommend inappropriate treatments.
What Medical Schools Are Doing
The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which is the accrediting arm of the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, has required medical school curricula to include information on recognizing and correcting health care disparities since 2000. However, by 2018, there were still no clear standards for what that should entail, and self-reported data at the time showed only 40 percent of schools were teaching about racial disparities. Individual medical schools are now taking the reins to prepare their students to recognize and address bias in health care settings.
At the University of Texas Austin’s Dell Medical School, their health equity focus was expanded in January 2021, with a new core competency in health equity added to its undergraduate curriculum. Students are now taught topics such as the historical and modern context of discrimination in health care, how to recognize barriers to equitable care, and how to advocate for improved policies and procedures. Similarly, Yale Medical School introduced a new focus on health care disparities to its four-year curriculum in April of 2021 and is working to integrate a health equity focus into half of its curriculum by 2023.
Other initiatives are aimed at bringing awareness of the need to mitigate biases to future health care industry leaders and administrators. In partnership with the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, Arizona State University College of Health Solutions offers a Science of Health Care delivery certificate program with coursework on bias and disparities, health economics, population health, and physician leadership. The program is designed to provide developing decision-makers with the skills and education necessary to improve equity in the health care sector.
While medical schools are working to educate future health care providers and leaders, efforts are ongoing to reduce the impact of implicit bias in medical settings today. Implicit bias can be even harder to recognize than overt prejudice because often those influenced by it don’t consciously hold discriminating views. In California, AB 241 requires that instruction of implicit bias in medical treatment make up part of the continuing education requirement for licensed medical professionals.
Awareness is the key to recognizing implicit bias and learning how to consciously act to promote better treatment and outcomes. With Bridge Training Consultants’ AB 241 training, your organization can do more than check a box to meet the statutory requirements. Our training is designed to help attendees explore the concept of implicit bias and guide self-discovery in a non-judgmental environment, getting them engaged and participating with humor. To find out more about how we can help you meet your AB 241 requirements with effective in-person or remote training, contact Bridge Training Consultants here.