Preventing Bias In Patient Care

Physicians and care providers strive for equitable treatment of all patients. However, due to their implicit, or unconscious attitudes, the treatment of patients across different demographics may be inconsistent.

In this article we will discuss what types of bias are present in patient care, the impact they can have, and methods to reduce bias when caring for patients

What Are The Types Of Bias In Healthcare?


There are two types of bias in healthcare: implicit and explicit.

Explicit bias occurs when the physician or care provider is aware of how they feel about a certain race or ethnicity and allows their perception to impact the quality of their care.

This may be evident through blatant neglect of the patient’s needs, or recommendations that are not effective for the patient’s illness.

This is extremely uncommon in the medical industry, as most physicians aim to provide indiscriminate care.

Implicit bias occurs when the physician or care provider is unaware that the quality of their care is being impacted by their feelings towards a particular demographic.

The vast majority of care providers have egalitarian beliefs, and only wish to provide high-quality care for all of their patients.

However, as these social stereotypes are often formed below the layer of conscious awareness, care providers may be unaware of these opinions, which may conflict with their ability to deliver excellent care.

Bias is unavoidable, as it is human nature to categorize and classify the world.

It is important to become aware of your own bias, so that you may begin the untraining process.

How Does Bias Affect Patient Care?

Over the past two decades, research has shown that implicit bias leads to inequities in patient communication, treatment recommendations, and pain management options, amongst many other categories.

One surprising study found that a considerable amount of medical students held false beliefs about biological differences between different races, such as believing that black skin is tougher than white skin. These beliefs are predictive of future racial bias in patient treatment.

Studies of physicians’ level of implicit racial bias, according to criteria from the Implicit Associations Test, have shown a disparity in patient-centered behavior, positive body language, and verbal dominance during encounters between patients and physicians of different ethnicities.

An unfortunate example of the impact of bias in the medical industry, black patients have a higher statistical probability to die in the ICU receiving life-sustaining treatment when compared to white patients.

Research has found that while verbal communication between patients and providers was similar, nonverbal communication channels were closed more often with black patients than with white patients.

Failure to build rapport with patients has shown to lead to decreased trust in the provider, as well as decreased likeliness to adhere to medical recommendations.

It is important to understand that bias is unavoidable. However, it is the responsibility of every provider to be aware of their own bias and to prevent it from interfering with treating patients.

How Can I Reduce My Own Bias?

Now that we’ve established what it is and the impacts bias can have on patient care, how can you avoid bias?

Here are four different strategies to tackle your own implicit bias:

• Replace:

If you become aware that your response is based on a stereotype, consciously adjust your response to see the patient as an individual.

• Individuate:

When possible, avoid stereotyping your patients.

Each person is unique and should be treated as such. Take a personal interest in their medical history and focus on treating their specific issue.

• Empathize:

Do your best to understand the situation from the patient’s perspective. While this is your profession, it may well be one of the worst days in their recent memory.

Taking the time to comprehend your patient’s thought processes will allow you to communicate with them more effectively and provide the care they need.

• Reframe:

If you notice the patient is having trouble with the patient-provider dynamic, reframing the interaction may be exactly what your physician needs to do.

Instead of presenting themself in a manner that could be perceived as condescending, providers should attempt to convey themselves as collaborating equals, with the collective goal of treating the patient.

A word from Endure Industries


While health care providers may believe their practices to be bias-free, research suggests that forms of implicit bias are nearly unavoidable.

However, these preferences are not conscious behaviors.

By practicing mindfulness and working to understand the patient’s perspectives, providers can make a meaningful effort to ensure behavior toward others reflects their intentions, which is to provide exceptional treatment to patients of all ages, races, and nationalities.