A University of Washington study suggests that race bias may influence medical treatment. Dr. Thaddeus Bel discusses the study's findings.
Read the full transcript »
Rebecca Fox: Studies have shown that African-Americans in the United States receive inferior care for certain conditions. University of Washington studies suggest that race bias may influence medical treatment. Joining us now to discuss the findings is Family Practice Physician, Dr. Thaddeus Bell. Dr. Bell, what did the study find? Dr. Thaddeus Bell: It was a very small study. The bottom line of the study said that subconsciously, there are some white physicians who prefer to see white patients as opposed to African-American patients. By the way, the study was done by a survey and that same study shows that it did not make a difference with African-American physicians as to what the race of the patient is. It was a very interesting study and it really is a study in a number of studies that showed that there is some racial bias when it comes to physicians giving care to minority patients and what it really says is that physicians are no different. They may mean something else because certainly, those same kinds of thoughts are in our population today or in our society today. Rebecca Fox: One of the researchers said, it was too early to know if there was a direct link between the quality of care delivered to African-Americans and the study findings, can you explain this. Dr. Thaddeus Bell: In other words, they have not been able to objectively say a white patient being treated for high blood pressure as opposed to a black patient being treated for high blood pressure. We have not come up with a tune that can objectively say and measure whether or not the treatment of one patient was better than the treatment of the other patient based the one race. So, that’s why you will continue for a while to see that whenever we do these studies, we will continue to have to say it suggest that that may be the case because medicine, we try to be as unbiased in our studies as we possibly can. However, I can tell you that this is just one of many studies that are certainly pointing in that direction and I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a good thing because we are never going to be able to deal with this issue, unless, we’re willing to talk about it in an objective fashion. There was another study that I think was just as interesting as this one that was done a couple of months ago that surveyed a group of doctors in a practice. The study did not say whether the doctors were white or black but it did take a look at the patients who were in the practice, white and black. They look at the cure of diabetes and based on that study, it showed that the white patients in the practice got better care off of that for their diabetes than the black patients in the practice. They based that on outcome, whether or not the A1c; which is the test that we use to determine whether or not the diabetes is under control. It looks at the blood pressure and etcetera. Of course, the regular observer of this particular study would say, “Well, there could have been a lot of other variables which could have affected the study” and they are absolutely right but I am impressed that we are going to see over the next several months and years these kinds of studies because it will help medicine become better. It will take us to another level and the mere fact that physicians are willing to even look at whether or not they are subconsciously bias or unbias I think is a step in the right direction. Rebecca Fox: How can implicit bias among physicians be eliminated? Can it ever be eliminated? Dr. Thaddeus Bell: Well, I think it can be eliminated. First of all, I think that if you are bias, you have to first be aware of it. You can't stick your head into saying “Well no, that can’t be me.” So, you have to be aware of it. Then I think that this is where diversity training comes in. If you and I are colleagues and I heard a conversation that you had with the minority patient and the patient got upset with you, I would like to hope that as your colleague I could say to you, “Y