This site is a resource for tips and tools for excellence in care for women. It is dedicated to happenings at the Women's Health Education Program of Drexel University College of Medicine. WHEP's programming includes innovative education of health professionals, community outreach, community participatory research and networking with like-minded people interested in overcoming gender health disparities.
Could there be racial bias in your prescription for pain?
False beliefs about
biological differences between blacks and whites lead to disparities in medical
assessment and treatment according to a study recently published in Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.The
study examined racial bias in perception of others’ pain among white laypeople
(group 1) and white medical students/residents (group 2) as well as the extent
to an number of false beliefs were endorsed, including:
“blacks age more slowly than whites”
“blacks’ nerve endings are less sensitive than
“blacks’ skin is thicker than whites’”
“blacks are more fertile than whites”
In both groups, participants who held false beliefs rated
black (vs. white) patients’ pain as lower.Among medical students and residents, although percentages holding these
beliefs were lower than among laypeople (50% vs. 75%), they were still quite
high, and this perception led to bias in treatment recommendations.
Historically, these beliefs were used to justify slavery and
the mistreatment of blacks in medical research such as the Tuskegee Syphilis
Experiment.Today, they more likely stem
from unconscious bias rather than overt racism.Perhaps they reflect greater empathy toward white patients (ingroup
favoritism) or perception of whites’ frailty.Whether similar beliefs are held by practicing physicians of both races is unknown.However, the findings in this study underscore
the importance of examining, exposing and rectifying racial disparities in
healthcare at all levels.