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What types of bias exist in healthcare?

For many patients, their quality of care may be impacted by the biases of their providers. Studies on implicit bias show that there are general societal biases about race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Additionally, these biases extend to patients having certain types of insurance, or no insurance, and this often impacts the care a patient receives.

Healthcare provider bias often involves:

  • Doctors not listening to a patient's complaint about symptoms.
  • Providers not making appointments or referrals for patients.
  • Providers assuming a patient wants or does not want something based on their race, gender, or lifestyle.

According to the 2021 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report (NHQDR), healthcare disparities are still prominent among racial and ethnic minority groups as well as women, non-native speakers, and transgender individuals. For example, when compared to the quality of care for white individuals, Indigenous Americans and Alaskan Natives experienced 40% worse care, while Black, Hispanic, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders experienced 84%, 62%, and 23% worse care, respectively.

Disparities in healthcare also exist between men and women. The 2021 Journal of Pain published a study finding that people generally believe that women experience less pain than men when reporting the same levels of pain. Additionally, women were not included in medical studies by the National Institutes of Health until 1993.

How can you protect yourself against bias?

Individuals concerned about the quality of the healthcare they receive may want to learn more about how to protect themselves against bias. There are several ways to protect yourself against systematic discrimination in the healthcare industry.

First, if you can, choose your primary care doctor carefully. A primary care doctor that you can identify with, or feel confident in, may make a much stronger advocate for your health. What is most important, however, is to find a primary care doctor that listens to you and takes your complaints and symptoms seriously. To find a primary care doctor, you may want to ask a trusted friend, or community group, for a referral to someone experienced working with a particular diagnosis, or gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Next, before any appointment, research what questions to ask your doctor online, and write them down. You may find a new medication, study, or other information that can help both you and your doctor home in on a health issue or solution.

To protect yourself, legally, you can make a Medical Power of Attorney and a Living Will before you have any medical procedures. These document your wishes regarding your healthcare and appoint the person of your choosing to make decisions if you cannot. An Advance Directive similarly explains your decisions on healthcare if you are incapacitated.

You also may reach out to advocacy groups for help. Some may help with finding medical providers, while others help with issues surrounding healthcare inequities, or by providing educational resources. Some of the more notable advocacy groups include:

How can understanding bias help?

Recognizing that healthcare bias exists is a proactive step to protecting yourself against it. After all, you are your own best advocate when it comes to your health.

When advocating for your own health, you can take steps to make sure you receive the care you deserve. In addition to choosing your primary care doctor carefully and reading up on your health concerns, the following can make a big difference:

  • Do not hesitate to ask your doctor every question you have about your health, and ask follow-up questions if you do not understand, or think an answer is insufficient.
  • Ask your doctors about all the options available, and tests that may provide helpful information about your health.
  • If your doctor does not address your concern(s) or question(s), tell them directly.
  • Speak up if you have concerns about your healthcare.
  • Ask a friend or family member to come to appointments with you for emotional and moral support, or to help advocate or ask questions on your behalf.
  • Keep updated copies of your medical records and history.
  • Understand how your health insurance works.
  • Know when to get a second opinion.

What can you do if you feel your provider is biased?

The healthcare industry still has significant bias hurdles to overcome, but patients can play a part in remedying these inequities. Sometimes, no matter what proactive steps you take, you may be a victim of implicit bias when seeking healthcare services. If this occurs, you may file a Complaint Letter with the healthcare provider.

If you received, or were injured as a result of substandard medical care, you may want to talk with a lawyer to understand your rights and options.

If you have more questions about healthcare, health insurance, or medical documents, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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