The Influence of Unconscious Bias in Health Care

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Since the founding of medicine as a science, patient well-being has been the chief concern. As communities become increasingly diverse, however, medical professionals are forced to ask themselves whether their assumptions and established procedures are still relevant to their communities. Just how much does unconscious bias affect your performance?

The Basis for Bias – What Motivates Discrimination in Healthcare?

While a perfect world would allow physicians to treat each patient in a unique way that is tailored to their exact needs, the reality is that care plans are chosen using broad demographics as a guide. In most cases, such diagnostic and treatment criteria meet patient needs in the most efficient way possible. In an industry where doctors already are able to spend only 27 percent of their day with patients, these measures are necessary to ensure adequate care across the community.

Problems arise, however, when bias intrudes that is not based on scientific evidence. Even unconsciously, physicians and other medical professionals routinely find themselves making assumptions about based on insignificant data points. Consider some common patient demographic and personal information that can influence diagnosis and treatment:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Education level
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Race
  • Accent
  • Cultural identifiers

It’s all too common for medical workers to make patient care decisions that are based less on measurable data and more on personal perception. In fact, systematic review has discovered that implicit bias is common throughout the healthcare system. Though this is rarely due to purposeful discrimination, unconscious bias still leads to negative results for patients.

Combating Unconscious Bias

If you’re a healthcare worker reading the previous bullet points, you may have noticed a major issue: though not the definitive factor in diagnosis and treatment, most of these points do have a significant impact on patient care. Medications are routinely dosed according to a patient’s weight, for example, and age plays a major role in determining the most likely diagnosis for any major symptoms. Genetics and culture – nature and nurture, respectively – also are major players in diagnosis and treatment.

The key to separating helpful assumptions from negative bias, therefore, lies primarily in training and awareness. In order to ensure your community’s needs are met efficiently and respectfully, your medical staff must become expert in meeting the needs of demographically diverse patients. Your hiring practices also play a major role in increasing the quality of your services. By crafting diverse and culturally sensitive workforce, you ensure your clients’ demands are met and exceeded.

Your facility’s success depends on the skill of its leaders. At UHC Solutions, we specialize in matching talented, forward-thinking executives with health centers that are looking to improve their communities. To learn more about our services, contact us today.