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Researchers Examine Racial Bias in Doctors

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 10:49 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Doctors, Health Disparities, Racial Disparities, Medical Care


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto/ doctor taking notes/ author: sstop

A newly released study, suggests doctors subconsciously favor whites over blacks. The finding may help explain widespread racial disparities in health care in the United States.

The study mirrors earlier research that found people have racial biases they are unaware of, said lead author Janice Sabin, assistant professor of medical education and biomedical informatics at UW.

If an individual possesses an unconscious bias, that does not make that individual racist, said Sabin.

“We don’t call what these tests show prejudice. Rather, we refer to it as hidden bias or unconscious bias, something most people are unaware they even possess,” said Anthony Greenwald, a UW psychology professor and creator of the Implicit Association Test was part of the research team on the new study.

It is too soon to know if there is a direct link between physicians’ implied, or unconscious, racial attitudes and the standard of medical care.

The study is based on results of approximately 400,000 people who participated in an online test between 2004 and 2006 about their attitudes on race. The Implicit Association Test quickly measures subconscious bias by asking people to associate a positive or negative word in a series of photographs.

Project Implicit blends basic research and education outreach in a virtual laboratory which allows visitors to examine their own hidden biases. Project Implicit was created by three scientists whose work produced a new approach to understanding biases, attitudes and stereotypes. To try the test yourself, you can visit the Project Implicit web site.

Over 2,500 test takers were identified as doctors. The majority of doctors in all ethnic and racial groups showed an implicit preference for white Americans compared with black Americans except for black doctors who typically did not have a preference either way.

Male doctors displayed a greater preference for whites than female doctors and the bias was relatively close among the rest of the test-takers, who had more than 70 percent unconscious preference for whites over blacks.

Unconscious bias is widespread in society, shared not only by doctors, according to Sabin.

Studies have found blacks in the U.S. are more likely to die from cancer, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, than whites. Some studies found this disparity persists even when incomes, education and insurance coverage are the same.

The study was presented at the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting on Tuesday, in San Diego, California.

Another recent study found doctors lack empathy even when their patient’s seem to ask for it, according to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. #

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