Are you really getting the quality care you need? – Physician Implicit Bias

By: Christine Saleeb

We would be quite oblivious if we think that stereotypes and biases do not currently shape our mindsets—even subconsciously. Canada, fortunately, has a healthcare system where all people despite their race, gender, age, religion, geographic location or sexual orientation, have an opportunity to receive equal access to health care in order to lead healthy lives [1]. Contrarily, health inequity refers to poor treatment that lacks in this equal opportunity, including the miscommunication that occurs between patients and their doctor and therefore results in treatment disparities [2,3]. Though people don’t realize it, there is an implicit bias that exists when a doctor speaks to a patient, especially of minority descent. The society we live in creates negative stereotypes against outgroups (those people outside one’s usual social circle) and naturally shapes the subconscious view in the doctor’s mind without their conscious awareness [3]. Studies have shown that on average, doctors spend less time with patients of different race, ethnic background than their own [2,3]. This experience may affect the way the doctors interact with the patients and may make them less likely to prescribe certain treatments [3]. This may leave the patient feeling helpless and like the doctor does not care for them, which in turn, affects the beliefs they may have about the healthcare system. This results in patients only seeking care when necessary, which may lead to a plethora of health complications. Being aware of this implicit bias is the first step towards reducing its effects. [2].

[1] Roos, N. P., & Mustard, C. A. (1997). Variation in health and health care use by socioeconomic status in Winnipeg, Canada: does the system work well? Yes and no. Milbank Quarterly, 75(1), 89-111.

[2] White, K., Haas, J. S., & Williams, D. R. (2012). Elucidating the role of place in health care disparities: the example of racial/ethnic residential segregation. Health services research, 47(3pt2), 1278-1299.

[3]Green, A.R., Carney, D.R., Pallin, D.J., Ngo, L.H., Raymond, K.L., Iezzoni, L.I., &Banaji, M.R. (2007). Implicit bias among physicians and its prediction of thrombolysis decisions for black and white patients. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 22(9),1231-1238.

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