Bias in medicine is a serious issue. Many people may harbor conscious or unconscious bias, but this can become particularly harmful when a physician harbors such a bias, and it influences the way in with he or she practices medicine.
As a growing amount of studies have revealed health disparities linked to race, gender, ethnicity, and disability, focus fallen on the reasons for these disparities, including physician bias. In one study, doctors with unconscious racial biases were less likely to prescribe pain medication to non-white patients. Another study found that physicians with unconscious biases were less likely to treat black patients showing signs of heart attack with a particular clot-dissolving therapy that staves off heart muscle damage.
Many studies have also explored the relationship between gender and medical care, finding that women’s health concerns were being dismissed at a much higher rate than among their male counterparts. Even now, studies are finding that women face unique challenges. For example, serious medical complaints brought by women in their 40s and 50s have been misdiagnosed as symptoms of menopause or perimenopause.
Courses teaching intercultural communication, also known as cultural competency, are now a part of the medical school educational standards set for all accredited medical schools in the United States.
A new study examines LGBT bias among physicians and what can be done to alleviate such bias. Researchers at Yale surveyed more than 2,900 medical students across six years, from their first year of medical school to their second year of medical residency. The survey was designed to asses the level and quality of their contact with LGBT individuals and also whether they had heard or experienced negative comments or actions against sexual minorities. The survey also asked questions designed to assess bias.
The study found that medical students expressed less bias towards sexual minorities two years after medical school if they had more contact and favorable interactions they had with LGBT people during medical school. The study also found that medical students who were exposed to more negative views about LGBT individuals during medical school tended to exhibit greater by the second year of their medical residency. After a period of six years, students who had more contact and favorable interactions with LGBT individuals scored lower on measures of explicit bias. Students exposed to “negative role modeling” expressed more bias against sexual minorities.
The authors of the study, published in Social Science and Medicine, emphasized the need to increase positive interactions with sexual minorities early in medical training: “Hopefully, reductions in physician bias following positive contact with LGBT individuals early in their training will help improve patient satisfaction and even health outcomes.”