Unconscious (or implicit) bias training is in the spotlight. From the #MeToo movement to the chorus of outrage over the unwarranted arrests of two black men at a Starbucks, companies are facing increasing public pressure to address the roots of discriminatory treatment. But questions remain over whether bias training is an effective course of action, versus a perfunctory act taken to avoid bad press.
In this week's News Roundup:
- Unconscious Bias Training Can Ease Crisis in Black Maternal Mortality
- Stigmatizing Language in Medical Records Affects Patient Care
- Discrimination Causes Latinas to Be Less Satisfied with Contraception
- Documentary Explores Desegregation of Healthcare System
We've reported extensively on the dismal maternal mortality rates in the U.S., and the crisis in black maternal mortality in particular. A new piece by NBC News follows the stories of two black mothers who experienced serious complications with their deliveries. Both women felt their medical teams were dismissive and brusque, and that their health problems may have been avoided with better communication. They are among the 32% of black women who feel they’ve been discriminated against in physicians’ offices. Unconscious (or implicit) bias on the part of healthcare providers has very real consequences for patient outcomes. Bias training may not be the complete solution, but it is part of the solution, and should become a standard practice in all medical schools and healthcare organizations.
In this week's News Roundup:
- How Empathy Keeps People Out of the Hospital
- Gender Bias Diminishes Women's Health Concerns
- University of Chicago Reopens Trauma Center
- Black Patients with Heart Failure Less Likely to See Cardiologists
How Empathy Keeps People Out of the Hospital
Growing evidence shows that more empathetic care can keep people healthier and reduce hospital visits. A new piece by NPR's Marketplace profiles Philadelphia's Penn Center for Community Health Workers, which pairs community health workers with patients who frequent hospitals due to chronic illness, poverty, or mental health problems. The community health workers visit patients at their homes and help them navigate their health issues. The Penn Center makes an effort to match its staff with patients who share a similar background, in order to inspire trust. A randomized, controlled study showed the Center reduced hospitalizations by 30%.
Racial Bias Isn't Just a Problem at Starbucks
A video of two black men getting arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia has sparked widespread outrage directed at both Starbucks and the police. In response, Starbucks announced that it will close 8,000 stores in May so employees can engage in racial bias training. "While this is not limited to Starbucks, we're committed to being a part of the solution," said CEO Kevin Johnson. The problem certainly isn't limited to one company, or one industry, or one region of the country. There are any number of examples of white Americans calling the police on black Americans without real justification. Deeply ingrained and unconscious racial bias routinely leads to instant, often fear-based judgements about people that can have dire consequences. The question is, what can we do to break this cycle?
Unconscious Bias in Healthcare Impacts Bottom Line
Unconscious bias leads to health disparities for patients, and has a negative effect on healthcare workers as well. Unconscious bias can cause both patients and staff to be treated differently based on gender, race, language spoken, lifestyle choices, and more. This results in higher staff attrition and and lower patient satisfaction—and in turn, it negatively effects healthcare organizations' bottom line.
We're Failing Dr. King's Legacy in Healthcare
This past week marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. Dr. King famously said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane." He said that in 1966. In 2018, the US still struggles with pervasive health inequality that weakens our overall healthcare system, and reduces our standing compared to other developed nations. The city of Atlanta, where Dr. King grew up and went to college, is a national healthcare hub, boasting world-class healthcare facilities. It is home to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Cancer Society, the Arthritis Foundation, and several schools of medicine and public health. But Atlanta also has some of the widest gaps in black and white health outcomes in the country. Among these disparities are:
Implicit Bias Controversy Based on Misunderstandings
Implicit bias, and especially the Implicit Association Test (IAT), has been the subject of recent debate in both scientific and popular press. Is the IAT accurate? Are its findings useful? Does the concept of implicit bias impede efforts to address explicit bias? A new piece in Scientific American argues that the controversy around implicit bias and the IAT is based on fundamental misunderstandings. For example, the IAT isn't designed to predict individual behavior, like how a particular physician will interact with a particular patient. Rather, the aggregate data can help predict (and correct) big-picture functions.
How to Improve Diversity in Clinical Trials
As reported in previous News Roundups, a lack of diversity in clinical trials results in disparities in care among under-served populations. Recruiting different racial and ethnic groups, especially African-Americans, remains a challenge. A focus-group study conducted by Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center sought to learn what it would take to address this problem. Results show that trust and communication are key to increasing minority participation in clinical trials.
What is unconscious bias?
Every moment, your brain processes incredible amounts of information. This processing allows you function: to make decisions and take actions. The majority of this goes on behind the scenes, a necessary efficiency that means you don’t have to “think” about most of your activity. For example, the minute calculations your brain makes to accomplish simple things, like walking across the room to open a door. Or more complicated things, like assessing a fellow human being.
Cancer Screening Recommendations Put Nonwhite Women at Risk
In the United States, the recommended age for women to begin routine mammograms for cancer screening was recently increased to 50 years of age. This was based on a study of 747,763 mostly white women showing that breast cancer diagnoses peaked in their 60s. But researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have published a new study in JAMA Surgery that shows black, Hispanic, and Asian women tend to get breast cancer earlier than white women. A lack of data from racially diverse populations could put nonwhite women at risk for delayed diagnosis. According to David Chang, PhD, MBA, MPH, of the MGH department of surgery and an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, "The situation with breast cancer is one of the best examples of how science done without regard to racial differences can produce guidelines that would be ultimately harmful to minority patients."