Medical mistakes can happen in just about any medical facility and to any patients. However, an increasingly strong body of research has made it clear that certain patient populations are at increased risk of specific forms of medical neglect and malpractice.
Specifically, African American patients face the double threat of both implicit physician bias during their medical examinations and treatments, and systemic, subtle racism reinforced by the software used by medical facilities that determines what care people receive.
The unfortunate result of medical racism is that African American patients often have doctors who don’t listen to their self-reported symptoms and who fail to order adequate diagnostic testing or pain relief for their patients. Those issues combine to decrease the quality of care African American patients receive and may even contribute to their lower life expectancy when compared with other Americans.
Overview of physician attitudes toward patients shows an alarming trend
If you were to ask most medical professionals whether they consider themselves racist and whether racism affects how they treat their patients, they would most likely tell you racism plays no role in their medical practice. Multiple recent studies have shown subtle forms of racism that physicians, particularly white doctors experiencing professional burnout, exhibit toward black and African American patients.
These issues include a perception of black patients as having higher pain tolerance and being more likely to engage in drug-seeking behaviors. The combination of those prejudices may lead physicians to not listen when African American patients complain of serious medical symptoms.
This bias means that fewer African American patients receive proper referrals for early testing related to heart conditions. It can also lead to unnecessary physical suffering that can exacerbate other medical conditions when physicians won’t prescribe adequate pain management.
Outside analysis has also shown racism in medical software
As if the implicit bias that many doctors carry into their daily medical practice wasn’t alarming enough, the software that medical facilities use to assist in the treatment and diagnosis of patients may also carry racial bias that impacts patient care.
A study of a common algorithm used to determine the kind of care patients get found that it has disproportionately negatively impacted the care that African Americans receive. While medical providers scramble to adjust to this new knowledge, millions of Americans may have had their health or the health of a loved one unnecessarily compromised by racial bias.
If you believe that racial bias led to a failure to diagnose or inadequate care that negatively impacted someone’s health or recovery, this could eventually lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit. Examining the records of medical interactions and treatments can be a first step toward proving that a doctor’s actions didn’t align with a reasonable standard of care.