TUESDAY, June 28, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Deep-rooted biases may affect how white patients physically respond to medical care from racially or gender-differentiated physicians.
The researchers assessed the treatment responses of nearly 200 white patients after they were randomly assigned to receive care from a male or female doctor who was black, white or Asian.
White patients seemed to improve faster when treated by a white male – the stereotypical doctor in the United States.
But the experiment had a twist: Each patient was unknowingly treated with a placebo drug, meaning they were drug-free.
Their reactions suggest entrenched gender and racial biases. Patients on average had demonstrably better physical outcomes after being treated by a white male doctor, compared to those who were treated by a female or black doctor.
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“In the study, white patients walked into a fake doctor’s office, where the provider induced a mild allergic reaction by pricking the patients’ skin with histamine,” the study’s lead author explained. , Lauren Howe.
“All providers gave these patients the exact same treatment for their allergic reaction,” noted Howe, an assistant professor of management at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. In this case, it was a placebo cream – an “unscented hand lotion that the providers said was an antihistamine and would reduce the size of their allergic reaction”.
The result: Patients “who received this treatment from a black woman or provider showed less reduction in the size of their allergic reaction over time,” Howe said.
The study team emphasized that the issue of racial and gender bias is of great importance. Historically, most doctors in the United States have been male and white, but the makeup of the medical profession is changing.
In 2017, more than half of all applicants accepted into medical school were people of color, and the majority of applicants accepted were women, according to the study’s briefing notes.
The study participants lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. All were white. All 13 male or female doctors were black, white or Asian.
The patients underwent an allergy skin test, which caused a mild allergic skin reaction, such as a raised bump. In turn, each doctor applied a cream, which had no medicinal properties, for his patient’s allergic reaction.
Each patient’s skin was assessed 30 seconds after application of the placebo cream, then again three, six and nine minutes later.
Patients treated by a female or black physician had a significantly poorer response to the drug-free cream than patients treated by a male and/or white or Asian physician.
The finding, Howe said, suggests that “when a patient walks into a doctor’s office, if their doctor doesn’t look like the kind of person who has played that role for most of history – that’s that is, if the physician is not a white male – then patients may be less responsive to that physician’s treatment in terms of immediate physical response to treatment.”
White patients, Howe said, expressed no “implicit bias,” meaning they did not rate female or black doctors as less warm or competent. They also did not express “explicit bias,” meaning they no longer expressed anxiety or negative nonverbal reactions toward black or female caregivers.
“In fact, the white patients in this research were highly motivated to be bias-free,” Howe noted. “They all said they cared about being unbiased and tended to engage the most with female vendors and vendors of color.”
All of this, she said, points to a deep-seated problem of bias, because “even when people report and show positive attitudes toward providers, they showed less of a response to the treatment given by those providers.”
Andrea Roberts is a senior researcher at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. She said typical investigations of racial dynamics in health care focus on how care for black patients is undermined.
On this point, she said, “racial and gender bias in medicine has been well documented” over time.
But Roberts, who was not involved in the study, cautioned that the current effort does not provide definitive insight into how white bias might affect how white patients fare.
She called the results of the study “mostly guesswork on the part of the researchers,” given that “the research team’s own data did not indicate a negative bias toward women or black providers.” .
The results are in the June 27 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
There’s more on racism and health care at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Lauren C. Howe, PhD., assistant professor, management, department of business administration, University of Zurich, Switzerland; Andrea L. Roberts, PHD, MPH, Principal Investigator, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Boston; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 27, 2022
Originally published on consumer.healthday.com, as part of TownNews Content Exchange.