Physicians should try to offer each of their patients the same standard of care. They take an oath to try to do what is best for their patients, but some doctors fall far short of meeting that standard.
It is unfortunately quite common for a doctor’s personal prejudices to affect the care that they offer patients, especially if a doctor works in a hospital setting where they don’t see a set roster of patients.
Racism is a personal issue often associated with low income and less education, so people might assume that a medical doctor would not be racist. However, the sad truth is that a significant number of doctors allow inaccurate information or personal prejudices to affect the care that they provide to patients from different racial backgrounds. How does racism affect modern health care?
Some doctors still believe myths spread to justify slavery
While slavery was still a common practice and even after the end of slavery during segregation, there were medical and scientific professionals who devoted their careers to proving the biological or medical inferiority of non-European people.
There were entire fields of medical science long since debunked, like phrenology, which aimed to support claims that African-Americans were intrinsically different than their European counterparts. Even more than a century after the end of slavery, some doctors still believe medical misinformation about different races.
For example, some doctor believes that African-American patients have higher pain tolerance, so they are less likely to take someone’s self-reported pain symptoms seriously.
Social prejudice can also be an issue
Even if a doctor doesn’t believe that people with darker skin automatically have higher pain tolerance, they may be more suspicious of statements made by non-white patients. They may more readily suspect drug-seeking behaviors or question the accuracy of how they explained their symptoms.
The effect of these prejudices and stereotypes is obvious. Patients don’t receive the same kind of care or consideration if they see a doctor with deep-set racial biases. Not only may a patient have more stress and pain due to inadequate pain management because of racism, but they could also be at elevated risk of a doctor making a diagnostic mistake.
Understanding how your personal characteristics, like your race, could affect the treatment you receive can help you seek justice after a diagnostic mistake hurts your health.