Equality in treatment is something that all physicians should strive for. Physicians must learn to treat all patients without personal bias, equally and fairly. However, studies have shown that doctors still may hold unconscious racial bias towards their patients, which in turn negatively impacts their care.
In a recent study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that as many as 2/3rds of physicians have an unconscious racial bias towards patients. These physicians will dominate conversations so that the African American patient has less input, give patients less control over medical decision making, and not take patients' needs into account when treating. This creates a ripple effect for patients so that there is lack of trust between the patient and physician, as well as less likelihood that the physician will be recommended to others.
"If patients have good patient-centered interactions with their doctors,
we know they're more likely to follow through with care, make follow-up
appointments and better control diseases such as diabetes and
depression. This study suggests that unconscious
racial attitudes may be standing in the way of positive interactions to
the detriment of patient health." ~ Lisa A. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., Professor (Division of General
Internal Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)
How can the medical community counteract these biases and make sure patients receive the same level of care? It will take time and consideration. Unconscious bias exists because of a lack of awareness that it is taking place. Physicians should try to evaluate their opinions of patients and why they have made these assumptions. Has the patient said or done anything to indicate that they will be less than forthcoming in complying to treatment? From a patient's perspective, they should feel comfortable calling out physicians when they feel they're not getting the best care possible. Once physicians are aware of their bias, they can make moves to change their approach. The goal is to make medicine a team effort, where all participants feel good about what's occurring.