Physicians' Unconscious Racial Bias Could Impair Health Outcomes

John Commins, April 2, 2012

An 'unconscious' racial bias by some physicians could harm relations with African-American patients and ultimately may impair health outcomes.

A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that primary care physicians who held these unconscious racial biases spent more time with African-American patients during routine office visits, but also spoke slowly and dominated the conversations.

As a result, African-American patients queried by the researchers said they felt less respected, less trustful, and less engaged in the decisions related to their health.

"It could negatively affect the patient because although the visits tended to be longer and the doctors were talking slower the patients reported feeling less involved in the decisions," says Lisa A. Cooper, MD, a professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and lead author of the study.

"What we know from other studies looking at those kinds of indicators is that when patients don't feel as involved in decisions about their care they are not as likely to follow through on what is recommended to them, or come back for follow up visits."

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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