Bias in the clinical setting can impact patient care



– Physicians and other health care providers may harbor implicit, or unconscious, biases that contribute to health care disparities, patient communication researcher Stacey Passalacqua, PhD, said here at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Implicit biases are beliefs or attitudes, for example, about certain social groups, that exist outside of a health care provider’s conscious awareness, said Dr. Passalacqua of the department of communication at the University of Texas, San Antonio. If bias is implicit, it can be difficult self-assess.

Patients at risk for biased treatment include African Americans, women, Native Americans, LGBT patients, disabled patients, and patients with substance abuse disorders, among other social, ethnic, and racial groups, Dr. Passalacqua told attendees in workshops at the meeting.

“If a health care provider has negative biases toward a particular patient – maybe they think that these patients doesn’t care that much about their health or that they really have no interest in participating – then obviously that health care provider is far less likely to engage that patient in shared decision making,” she said in a video interview.

Diagnosis and treatment are subject to influence by the bias that physicians have toward certain patient groups, according to Dr. Passalacqua. For example, she said women with heart disease are less likely to be accurately diagnosed.

The bias in the medical setting might be mitigated by the presence of more individuals from the at-risk groups in the health care workforce, she added. In one recent retrospective study, investigators found that after an MI, a woman treated by a male physician was associated with higher mortality, while women and men had similar outcomes when treated by female physicians.

“That is one of the reasons why it is so important to have a diverse workforce, to have health care providers of different ethnicities, of different genders, or different backgrounds, because they are less subject to some of these implicit biases that we know are highly problematic in health care,” she said in the interview.

Dr. Passalacqua had no disclosures related to her presentation.

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