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Addressing Patient Bias Toward Health Care Providers

​March 26, 2020

  • Lisa A Cooper, MD, MPH, FACP, James F. Fries Professor of Medicine, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in Health Equity, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Nursing, and Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Renuka Gupta, MD, FHM, FACP, Assistant Professor of Medicine, New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Jack Lynch, FACHE, President and CEO, Main Line Health

When Dr. Renuka Gupta shared her story in 2016, she hoped to break the silence that so often surrounds incidents of patient bias toward health care providers. At the US hospital where she worked, she knew she wasn’t the only doctor from another country whose qualifications could be called into question by a patient. But she had no idea how personally humiliating, isolating, and painful the experience would be when a patient, in this case a white man, refused her care —he didn’t want her to come anywhere near him — and insisted that another doctor take her place.

Today, Dr. Gupta, who’s originally from India, is among a small but growing number of practitioners and health care leaders across the US writing and speaking on this subject, offering trainings, and recommending strategies to more effectively deal with discriminatory behavior by patients. We’re going to tap into this expertise on the March 26 WIHI: Addressing Patient Bias Toward Health Care Providers.

One challenge with patient bias is that there’s little research on its frequency or effects. Anecdotal evidence is plentiful, however. One recent qualitative survey of physicians and medical trainees at a large academic medical center finds patients’ disrespectful comments cause significant self-doubt and distress among these caregivers.

Jack Lynch believes enacting policies that prohibit doctor or nurse reassignment because a patient doesn’t like someone’s skin color, accent, or gender are a necessary first step. He’ll talk about the policy Main Line Health instituted some 15 years ago and the role leaders need to play to constantly reinforce the intended message. Dr. Lisa Cooper, who works on reducing patient bias and improving equity and inclusivity in health care, has written that what caregivers sometimes experience is “not so surprising” given what goes on in society overall. She calls for a variety of remedies, including ones that empower bystanders to discriminatory behavior by patients to step in and act more effectively.

How do these issues impact you and your organization? What’s proven helpful in the immediate and long term? Please join this March 26 WIHI conversation and thanks in advance for inviting others!