Physicians’ Unconscious Biases Can Influence Patient Care, Can Be Overcome, Opinion Piece Says
"Unfortunately, the entire health system sees patients by race, gender and ethnicity, and it has a profound effect on how care is delivered," Manoj Jain, a Memphis, Tenn.-based infectious disease physician and a medical director of Medicare's Quality Improvement Organizations in Tennessee and Georgia, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. Jain describes how he began to observe himself as he treated patients, noting that he was surprised to discover that he viewed patients in part by the stereotypes usually associated with their race, gender and ethnicity. Social psychology shows that "stereotyping is a universal human mental function" and that people use social groups as a way to understand people, Jain says. "[U]nconsciou[s]" stereotyping influenced how Jain judged patients, how he recalled and processed information, and his expectations and treatment of patients, he writes. He adds, "It is painful to write these things. As health care workers, we try to be unbiased in our delivery of care." Jain writes, "Once I became aware of how I thought when I encountered patients, I was able to start changing. ... I began to see my patient rather than his or her social group." He adds, "As a society we can overcome prejudices in health care by facing our tendency to stereotype," concluding, "Awareness is the first step to change" (Jain, Washington Post, 4/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.