New research has found that White patients’ physical response to certain health care treatments is influenced by the race and gender of the health care provider. The research indicates that even those who seek to be unbiased can still manifest problematic race and gender dynamics. As the health care workforce slowly shifts away from an overrepresentation of White male physicians, understanding these biases is essential to help society overcome them.
The new study, published in The Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Science, sought to examine whether patients still associated the concept of medical doctors with White men, and if physiological response to treatment was impacted by the provider’s race or gender. To examine this, a total of 187 White patients (64.2 percent women and 35.3 percent men) consented to a health exam administered by a randomly assigned health care provider who was a man or women and either Asian, Black, or White. During the health exam the patients had an allergy skin prick test administered to them that caused a laboratory-induced rash. The health care provider then administered an unscented, inert placebo cream to the area, and they explained that the cream would reduce the allergic reaction.
The researchers found that White patients had a weaker response to the treatment over time when it was administered by a woman or Black provider. While no evidence was found of explicit bias in the behavior of the patients, the researchers suggest that White patients may have had a weaker response over time as a consequence of their effort to manage their biases.