A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine contends that doctors’ inadequate treatment of heart disease in women and African-Americans may be due to physician bias.
Past research has shown that women and African-Americans are less likely than white men to receive specialized tests and care when they report the exact same symptoms. These findings were attributed to socioeconomic differences, differences in insurance coverage, and the hypothesis that white men might complain more about their symptoms. Now Dr. Kevin A Schulman of Georgetown University Medical Center has argued that physician bias may be the cause.
Schulman surveyed 720 physicians and found that black men and women as a group were only 60% as likely as white men to be referred for specialized care and that black women were only 40% as likely to receive that referral. Female doctors were only slightly more likely than male doctors to refer female patients for additional tests and care.
To test for bias, Schulman made videotapes using African-American and white actors as patients. All of the patients wore hospital gowns, and had identical jobs and insurance coverage, and spoke from the same scripts. Doctors were asked to recommend treatment for these fictional patients after viewing the videotapes.