Half of physicians admit bias toward patient groups

Fifty percent of physicians believed they hold biases about some groups of patients, but only 16 percent said it got in the way of patient care, according to Medscape's Lifestyle Report 2017.

Some physician groups were more likely than others to report bias. For example, physicians who identified as Korean or Vietnamese were most likely to admit biases toward specific patient groups, at rates of 63 percent and 60 percent, respectively. Physicians who identified as Asian Indian were least likely to report bias, at rates of 34 percent. Black physicians reported bias at rates of 56 percent, while 53 percent of white physicians reported bias.

Male and female physicians also reported different rates of bias, depending on the factor. Among both sexes, the three greatest factors that elicited bias were a patient's weight, emotional problems and intelligence level. More than half (51 percent) of male physicians reported bias toward overweight patients, while 42 percent of female physicians did. However, female physicians (51 percent) were more likely than male physicians (50 percent) to report bias toward patients with emotional problems. Forty percent of male physicians believed they were biased toward patients with low intelligence and 38 percent of female physicians reported this bias.

Not all biases had an entirely negative connotation, though most did. Patients with language differences elicited the greatest negative bias from physicians, followed closely by patients with emotional problems. However, some factors, such as old age, had a mixed affect on bias. For example, half of all physicians said treating patients older than them elicited a bias with a positive effect, while another 27 percent of all physicians said their bias toward older patients had a negative effect on care. The remaining physicians said the effect was positive or negative.

Responses from more than 14,000 physicians are included in the survey. Medscape notes the survey was not able to measure implicit or unconscious bias.


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