Medical records' role in discrimination

Research increasingly suggests physicians can convey bias under "the guise of objective descriptions" found in medical records, Kaiser Health News reported Sept. 26.

Dayna Bowen Matthew, dean of Washington, D.C.-based George Washington University’s law school and an expert in civil rights law and disparities in healthcare, told Kaiser some patients are simply described by their conditions while others are characterized by things other than their health – such as social status. 

The characterization of patients can sometimes determine the level of care they receive. A 2021 study found that Black patients were quoted in records more frequently than other patients – which could signify clinicians trying to communicate sarcasm or irony to their peers. 

The digital shift for medical record keeping has intensified the bias in some instances. "It’s easier than ever to maintain stale records, rife with false impressions or misreads, and to share or duplicate them with the click of a button," the Kaiser report said.

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