Can Your Doctor's Gender And Race Really Impact The Outcome Of Your Treatment?

According to U.S. News & World Report, the results of a new study published in the June 27 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that ingrained bias concerning the gender or race of your doctor may have an influence on your health outcome. 187 white patients participated in the study. The doctors who were randomly assigned to each patient included male and female physicians who were Black, white, or Asian.

In order to receive treatment, participants in the study entered a mock doctor's office and underwent a skin prick test of a small dose of histamine to create a mild allergic reaction. All the patients were then treated with a placebo (drug-free) skin cream that the doctors told them was an antihistamine that would improve their allergic reaction.

Despite patients expressing their motivation to be unbiased, the results showed that patients who received care from a female or Black provider showed less improvement in their allergic response over time compared to patients who were treated by a white male doctor. Researchers said that this deep-rooted gender and race bias is particularly meaningful because the medical field, which has traditionally been male and white, is in the midst of changing. According to the study, people of color accounted for over 50% of medical school acceptances in 2017, with most of the accepted applicants being women, per U.S. News & World Report.

Doctors can also have an ingrained bias toward patients

While this study aimed to explore the bias that patients have towards the gender or race of their healthcare provider, another study released in March investigated how doctors can have an ingrained bias toward their patients. Assistant professor David Markowitz, psychology of language researcher in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, analyzed 1.8 million anonymous medical records from a Boston-based healthcare network. He examined the medical records using an automated text analysis tool that measured physicians' language patterns as they described a patient's condition and progress.

Among the revelations, the results showed that physicians speak more rationally to male patients, and tend to psychologically need to "work through" diagnoses more with female patients. Initial evidence also indicated that physicians show the greatest bias against Black women on average.

Markowitz noted that the study had some limitations. For instance, he analyzed the records of only one hospital. Also, he was unable to confirm the demographics of the physicians. However, he said that the results could still be useful as a potential red flag to signal how doctors are communicating with their patients in a potentially harmful manner. He also believes the data could ultimately lead to better training, reduced inequality, and improved care, per the University of Oregon.