Clinical decisions unaffected by unconscious racial, social class biases, survey finds

Despite reports of disparities in quality of care received by minority patients, unconscious racial and social class biases held by healthcare workers have little impact on their workers' clinical decisions, according to a study published in JAMA Surgery.

Researchers surveyed surgeons and physicians in related specialties at an academic, level I trauma center on their unconscious race and class attitudes using an implicit association test.

Of the 215 clinicians surveyed, implicit biases were present in most respondents, with clinicians scoring an average .42 for race (indicating moderate preference) and a .71 for social class (indicating a strong preference).

Presented with survey vignettes and possible patient management decisions, researchers found no differential patient treatment related to race or social class biases.

"Although this study of clinicians from surgical and other related specialties did not demonstrate any association between implicit race or social class bias and clinical decision making, existing biases might influence the quality of care received by minority patients and those of lower socioeconomic status in real-life clinical encounters," wrote study authors.

Additional research is warranted to study the associations between clinician implicit bias and healthcare outcomes.

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