Inaccurate beliefs about black patients’ biology can lead to inaccurate treatment recommendations

Doctors

By pH health care professionals

Are some doctors letting skin color affect their clinical decisions?

A new study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that medical students’ false beliefs about biological differences between black and white patients may affect how they perceive a patient’s pain.

Researchers collected survey results from 222 white medical students at the University of Virginia. 63 were first-year students, 72 were second-year students, 59 were third-year students and 28 were residents.

Students were asked to rate the accuracy of 15 mostly false statements (11 false, 4 true) about biological differences between black and white people. They could rate them definitely untrue, probably untrue, possibly untrue, possibly true, probably true or definitely true. The study authors found that about 50 percent of the medical students thought that one of the fake statements was "possibly, probably, or definitely true.”

Some of the statements included that blacks’ skin is thicker than whites’ and that black people’s blood coagulates more quickly than whites’, CBS News reported.

Overall, on average, the medical students said 11.55 percent of the false statements were either possibly true, probably true or definitely true.

They were also asked to read hypothetical medical cases about a black patient and white patient with the same health problems (cases where each had a kidney stone and where each had a leg fracture), rate the patients’ presumed pain, and provide recommendations.

The students who believed more false statements to be true rated the hypothetical black patient’s pain a half point lower, and they were less accurate in their treatment recommendations 15 percent of the time, the study said.

The researchers also performed this experiment with non-white medical students but did not include the findings in this study.

So what does this mean for patients?

Keep in mind, this is a small study of medical students, and does not necessarily mean your doctor has a racial bias. However, if you are concerned you are not getting appropriate treatment for ANY reason, you may want to get a second opinion.

Our patient advocates can help.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.

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