Implicit Bias in Healthcare for African Americans

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity has released its “State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2014.″ which helps to illuminate the impact of hidden biases on human action, specifically as it affects the African American community. This report draws on a vast array of social and cognitive psychological research that probe how unconscious paradigms and constructs inform conscious actions. The article defines implicit bias as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner”. These biases are pervasive towards the African American community and manifested in facets of everyday life like the criminal justice system, education arena and healthcare sector.

Various research projects have shown the existence of implicit bias towards African Americans in the healthcare system. These biases have been shown to affect the quality of care received by this community. A recent study conducted by Irene V. Blair and published in the American Journal of Public Health found that almost two-thirds of healthcare providers held implicit bias towards Black and Latino patients (Blair et al, 2013). Most of the physicians were shown to report having little explicit bias towards minority patients. Interestingly, the higher the implicit bias held by the physicians towards Black patients, the lower their rating on a survey of patient-centered care  . The survey probed for four aspects of physician-patient interaction: communication ( e.g., whether your questions were answered), trust (e.g., the clinicians’ integrity), interpersonal treatment (e.g., the doctor’s care/concern for you), and contextual knowledge (e.g., your doctor’s knowledge of your beliefs, values, etc).

Ultimately, these findings are important because implicit biases held by physicians could result in sub-par care being provided to their minority patrons. In order to fully address and reduce health disparity and health outcomes in the African American community, these biases must be adequately addressed.

Adedotun Ogunbajo, Joint Center Graduate Scholar, Johns Hopkins School Bloomberg of Public Health