Study among University of Virginia medical students and residents builds on previous research showing that Black Americans are systematically under-treated for pain relative to White Americans
Study finds that nearly a quarter of medical residents think black people have thicker skin than white people
While this in fairness may be partially due to the over-prescription of drugs to white middle class patients in the “Adderall Era,” a study released Monday disturbingly shows how inherent racial bias among medical professionals may be directly correlating to the lack of quality care among black Americans.
In the study, published in the April 4th edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Virginia quizzed white medical students and residents on various racial viewpoints as applied to medicine, noting how many times “fantastical” differences about the two races appeared palpably obvious.
They found that fully half of those interviewed thought at least one of the false statements was possibly, probably, or definitely true.
“Many previous studies have shown that black Americans are under-treated for pain compared to white Americans, because physicians might assume black patients might abuse the medications or because they might not recognize the pain of their black patients in the first place,” said Kelly Hoffman, a UVA psychology Ph.D candidate who led the study. “Our findings show that beliefs about black-white differences in biology may contribute to this disparity.”
Hoffman and her team asked 222 white medical students and residents to rate on a scale of zero to 10 the pain levels they would associate with two mock medical cases, a kidney stone and a leg fracture, for both white and black patients, and to subsequently recommend the pain treatments they would prescribe based on the levels of pain they thought the patients would likely be experiencing.
Additionally, they also asked the students/residents the extent to which beliefs regarding biological differences for blacks and whites are true.
This line of questioning included questions such as whether blacks age more slowly than whites, whether their nerve endings are less sensitive than whites’, whether their blood coagulates more quickly than whites, and whether their skin is thicker than whites, all of which have been patently proven to be false throughout centuries of medical analysis.
The researchers found that half of the sample endorsed at least one of the false beliefs, and those who endorsed these beliefs as a result were more likely to under-prescribe/under-treat black patients in their recommendations.
Just as critical to the study was the findings supporting those who correctly declined to endorse these falsehoods did not show the same bias in their prescription and treatment recommendations.
“We’ve known for a long time that there are huge disparities in how blacks and whites are assessed and treated by the medical community,” Hoffman said. “Our study provides some insight to what might contribute to this – false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites. These beliefs have been around for a long time in our history. They were once used to justify slavery and the inhumane treatment of black people in medicine.”
“What’s so striking is that, today, these beliefs are not necessarily related to individual prejudice. Many people who reject stereotyping and prejudice nonetheless believe in these biological differences. And these beliefs could be really harmful; this study suggests that they could be contributing to racial disparities.
“The good news is that individuals who do not endorse these false beliefs do not show any evidence of racial bias in treatment recommendations. Future work will need to test whether challenging these beliefs could lead to better treatment and outcomes for black patients.”
Hoffman’s findings seem to support widely-known yet seldom discussed double standards in prescribed treatments for communities of color, and how that reflects as a microcosm of white America’s viewpoints on black America’s ability to withstand more pain.
— UPI Health News (@UPIhealthnews) September 14, 2015
Black Lives Matter In The ER: Black Kids With Appendicitis Undertreated With Opioid Pain Meds http://t.co/Tg6uY9ceMj
— Lucas Wyrsch (@Lucas_Wyrsch) September 19, 2015
A 2012 study also conducted by Hoffman also showed that people assume a priori that Blacks feel less pain than Whites with identical medical conditions.
This evidence was revealed across a wide-range of data, including identically injured black football players being more likely to play in a subsequent game that their white counterparts would be afforded the opportunity to rest from, along with medical evidence showing assumptions among registered nurses and students that black patients feel less pain than white patients.