Rene Salazar, MD, Professor of Clinical Medicine and Director of Diversity, Graduate Medical Education on the impact of unconscious bias.

The impact of unconscious bias has been studied in several domains including housing, education, employment, law enforcement and others. Over the last two decades, scientists have also explored the impact of unconscious bias on health and health care.

Though several factors contribute to health care disparities, including access and insurance status, it’s become apparent that unconscious bias may contribute to health care disparities.

Unconscious biases of health care providers, are the projection of stereotypes onto patients in ways that affect clinical decision making. Even those of us with the best intentions have biases that may negatively (or positively) influence the decisions we make when it comes to patient care
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These biases are most pronounces when one is: busy with other tasks, distracted, tired, anxious, and under time pressure.

The impact of provider bias on clinical decision-making is well documented. Since 1995, over 30 studies have been published relevant to implicit bias and clinical decision-making.

More than two-thirds of these studies found evidence of implicit or explicit race bias among healthcare providers and race influenced the medical decision making in many of these studies.

Studies have explored the impact of provider bias in several clinical settings including cardiac care, pain control, and communication. Though the majority of studies published explore race bias, bias towards patients from other groups such as obese patients, has also been studied.

Nonetheless, more research is need to explore the consequences of unconscious bias in healthcare especially among those from other groups including the elderly, disabled patients, and LGBT patients.

Additionally, interventions to mitigate the impact of unconscious bias on health care disparities need to be developed and rigorously tested.