Healthcare bias is an issue that affects both medical professionals and patients. Doctors, nurses and medical staff are meant to remain neutral, providing equal care for patients. However, there are instances where this hasn’t been the case.
What happens when people are being treated differently to others? What are the consequences for those working in medicine? And what comes next?
What is healthcare bias?
It’s been debated in Parliament and there have been BMJ articles written about the topic. There are campaign groups dedicated to making a change. All of these efforts are to address the issue of various types of healthcare bias within healthcare in the UK.
Healthcare bias refers to the unequal treatment, judgment, or unfairness that individuals experience in healthcare settings due to various factors. These factors include race, gender, socioeconomic status, and disability.
Bias can have significant consequences for patient health outcomes. It can also extend social and economic differences and delay the overall goal of providing equitable healthcare for all.
A recent study by personal injury claims specialists, Bolt Burdon Kemp proves this is the case. The study included a panel of 2,000 UK residents from different ethnic backgrounds, age groups, genders, and locations. They were asked about their healthcare experiences, and it was revealed that the majority of UK adults (53%) felt they’d received a different healthcare experience at some point, due to their age, gender, location or ethnicity.
In its many forms, healthcare bias can manifest in different ways. Racial bias, for example, can lead to disparities in access to quality care, resulting in minority populations receiving substandard treatment or facing longer wait times for appointments and procedures.
This was echoed in Bolt Burdon Kemp’s study, where seven out of 10 Black men (70% of Black African men and 77% of Black Caribbean men) were not told they have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. This is a disease that affects one in four Black men over a lifetime average, compared to one in eight in the wider community and neither their healthcare professional nor their GP shared this information with them.
As well as racial bias, gender bias may contribute to the underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis of certain conditions in women. This is because their symptoms may be dismissed or stereotypically put down to emotional factors rather than medical causes.
Socioeconomic bias can lead to unequal access to healthcare services, with individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experiencing barriers to essential care due to financial constraints.
Disability bias can result in inadequate accommodation, limited access to healthcare facilities, or biases in treatment decisions based on assumptions about a person’s abilities.
The impact on patient health outcomes
The impact of healthcare bias on patient health outcomes is profound. Biases can contribute to health differences, with marginalised groups experiencing higher rates of chronic diseases, poorer health outcomes, and reduced life expectancies.
Bias can also delay accurate diagnoses, as preconceived perceptions or stereotypes may lead healthcare providers to overlook certain symptoms or dismiss patient concerns. This can delay essential treatments or result in inappropriate interventions.
Healthcare bias can also have emotional and psychological repercussions for patients, eroding trust in the healthcare system and leading to decreased compliance with treatment plans. This lack of trust and engagement can make health issues worse and result in poor overall health outcomes.
Beyond the individual
Healthcare bias can extend beyond individual patient experiences and have wider social and economic implications. Bias perpetuates inequality by reinforcing existing gaps in health outcomes and access to care.
Marginalised communities, already facing socioeconomic challenges, bear the brunt of healthcare bias, ultimately leading to decreased engagement in preventative care and worsening health outcomes. This not only impacts individuals and communities but also places an economic burden on society.
Efforts are being made to address healthcare bias and create a more equitable healthcare system. Technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, is being explored to reduce bias in the decision-making process and improve diagnostic accuracy.
Additionally, policy changes – such as the introduction of guidelines to promote cultural competence and diversity in healthcare settings – aim to reduce biases and improve patient care.
Also, healthcare providers and institutions are increasingly recognising the importance of diversity and inclusion in their workforce, which can help combat bias and enhance patient experiences. Hiring staff from a variety of backgrounds can be helpful. Likewise, training medical professionals in ethics and equality can be hugely beneficial.
The future of healthcare bias lies in the collective efforts of individuals, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and society as a whole. It is essential for everyone to examine their own biases and work towards promoting equality and fairness in healthcare. This includes advocating for policy changes, supporting initiatives that address healthcare disparities, and creating a culture of inclusivity and respect within healthcare settings.