Emerging Issues in Health Care Ethics: Implicit Bias

Emerging Issues in Health Care Ethics: Implicit Bias

The field of healthcare ethics rarely remains unaltered as it is constantly being dissected and amended. A particularly emerging issue in healthcare ethics is that of self-awareness and physical identity. It is fair to say that, in theory, the medical profession strives for the utmost unbiased treatment for all of its patients. At that, severe disparities in healthcare have remained commonplace. Research shows that a lack of cultural discernment, or implicit bias on the part of physicians, has contributed to health care disparities. According to “Understanding Implicit Bias” written by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, implicit bias “refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner”.

Although there are really no upsides to implicit bias and lack of cultural competency in the medical field’s physician-patient relationships, there are ways to reduce the impact of said issues. Because of the growing evidence that implicit bias exists, efforts to reduce the impact have grown impacts. According to Psychology Today’s article “Overcoming Implicit Bias and Racial Anxiety”, ways to reduce the affect of implicit bias would include, “Exposing people to counter-sterotypic examples of group members”, “Consciously contrasting negative stereotypes with specific counter-examples”, “Rather than aim to be color-blind, the goal should be to “individuate” by seeking specific information about members of other racial groups”, “Assume the perspective of an outgrip member”, and “Making more of an effort to encounter and engage in positive interactions with members of other racial and ethnic groups” (Tropp, Godsil).

Implicit bias within physician-patient relationships within the medical field prove to be particularly detrimental within minority populations. Within the article of “Physicians and Implicit Bias: How Doctors May Unwittingly Perpetuate Health Care Disparities” by Elizabeth N. Chapman, Anna Kaatz, and Molly Carnes, data shows that implicit bias disproportionately affects obese individuals, Black individuals, women, Hispanic, and elderly individuals. Despite popular belief, “race is not the only area where physicians demonstrate implicit bias” (Chapman, Kaatz, Carnes). Negative behaviors toward patients can result in difference of care, lack of desire to return for check-ups, and lowering of trust in physician capability. Said article also accounts two studies that found the Black patients given care in emergency departments receive less analgesia than White patients (Chapman, Kaatz, Carnes). Similar disparities are accounted for when looking at care between genders. “Women are three times less likely than men to receive knee arthroplasty when clinically appropriate”. It is hard to say what is to blame for the implicit bias, but it is clear to see that it exists.


Dehon, E., Weiss, N., Jones, J., Faulconer, W., Hinton, E., & Sterling, S. (2017). A Systematic Review of the Impact of Physician Implicit Racial Bias on Clinical Decision Making. Academic Emergency Medicine, 24(8), 895-904. doi:10.1111/acem.13214

Overcoming Implicit Bias and Racial Anxiety. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sound-science-sound-policy/201501/overcoming-implicit-bias-and-racial-anxiety

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