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Understanding Implicit Bias

The goal of healthcare is to provide the best possible care to all patients; indeed, many healthcare professionals must recite a pledge similar to the Hippocratic oath upon licensure. However, it is possible for healthcare professionals to have implicit bias that leads to substandard care.

Implicit bias is an unconscious attitude leading to stereotypes that influence thought and action. Not being aware of this bias can lead to unintentional discrimination in patient assessment and diagnosis, treatment, follow-up care, etc. Discrimination, unconscious or otherwise, in these impacted areas of healthcare leads to disparities where disadvantaged patient populations receive unequal care. Patient groups especially at risk of receiving unequal care may include:

An example of healthcare disparities can be seen in breast cancer mortality rates. Black women are 41% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Additionally, they are less likely to be diagnosed with stage I breast cancer, but twice as like to die from early breast cancer.

Eliminating implicit bias can help reducing disparities in healthcare. Strategies for healthcare professionals to remove bias from their practice may include:

Recognizing implicit bias and working to remove it from practice will help healthcare professionals to give the best care possible to all patients and reduce the disparities between patient populations.

References

Alspach, J. Implicit bias in patient care: an endemic blight on quality care. Crit Care Nurse (2018) 38 (4): 12–16.

Aujero, M. Breast cancer screening for at risk women. Oral presentation at: 23rd Annual Breast Cancer Update; February, 2021; Wilmington, DE.

Narayan, M. CE: addressing implicit bias in nursing: a review. Am J Nurs (2019) 119 (7): 36-43.