It has long been understood that racial bias affects the quality of healthcare a person may receive. This is particularly easy to observe regarding maternal mortality rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black mothers are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. In addition, Black women are more likely to experience “unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery with serious short- or long-term health consequences” than mothers of other races.
Every year, the CDC recognizes Black Maternal Health Week from April 11th through the 17th to help raise awareness of this ongoing concern. However, until recently, it has been unclear how much of the disparity was due to structural racism, making it more difficult for these families to receive healthcare versus racial bias on the part of medical professionals.
This may have changed with the release of a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The study analyzed linked administrative data to compare the health outcomes of California mothers and infants regarding income levels and race. Researchers at NBER found that race was a significantly stronger indication of poor maternal and infant health or mortality than income. Furthermore, the study found that outcomes among Black families with the highest incomes were still “markedly worse” than those of white families with the lowest incomes.
As such, the researchers concluded that this implies that income, and therefore financial access to improved medical care, is not the primary cause of high rates of Black maternal mortality and birth injuries. Instead, they argue that it appears to be caused by bias within medical institutions themselves.
This is discouraging, but many Black families are unsurprised by the findings. Conscious or unconscious bias by medical professionals can make it more difficult for people of color to receive adequate care. This can significantly impact your quality of life and may even cross over into medical malpractice, depending on the severity of the neglect you experience.
Risks of Medical Malpractice Due to Bias
While medical care would be unbiased and objective in a perfect world, that is not currently the case. Healthcare professionals are human, meaning the team providing you with medical care likely has unconscious cognitive biases that affect how they may treat you.
Racial biases can be particularly damaging. As recently as 2016, many medical students self-reported inaccurate beliefs about people with darker skin. Some of the incorrect and racist ideas that a given medical professional may hold about people of color compared to white patients include that they:
- Have thicker skin
- Do not feel pain as intensely
- Are more likely to seek drugs recreationally
- Have smaller brains
- Are more fertile
- Have denser bones
- Age slower
- Heal faster from injuries
All of these beliefs can shape how a medical professional treats a patient. If an obstetrician assumes that a Black woman is more fertile and feels less pain than a white woman, they are less likely to provide adequate prenatal care or appropriate pain management during labor. This can directly lead to worse outcomes for mothers. Similarly, the belief that a Black person heals more quickly or is more likely to seek drugs for recreational purposes can lead doctors and nurses to not provide adequate treatment for injuries.
Most Common Types of Medical Malpractice Caused by Racial Biases
Black people and other people of color can experience many types of harm under the care of biased medical professionals, including:
- Lack of Care: Medical professionals may not recommend certain tests or examine Black patients in more detail, causing serious conditions to go undiscovered.
- Misdiagnoses: Healthcare workers may be more likely to dismiss Black patients’ self-reported symptoms, assuming that the patient is exaggerating or lying. This can lead to misdiagnoses and delayed treatment for critical conditions like strokes, heart attacks, and cancer.
- Ignoring Consent Requirements: Medical workers with unconscious biases against people of color may believe they “know better” than the patient and disregard their consent. This may lead to patients undergoing unwanted procedures, such as involuntary sterilization during C-section deliveries, or being refused wanted procedures.
- Insufficient Pain Management: Regardless of the reason for their pain, many Black patients are refused adequate pain treatment. This includes mothers not receiving requested epidurals during labor, surgery patients being under-anesthetized, and injury victims being prescribed acetaminophen when white patients would be prescribed an opioid.
These issues are just the tip of the malpractice iceberg, though. Black patients are more likely to be victims of all types of malpractice than white patients simply because their healthcare providers are more likely to be negligent.
Holding Biased Medical Practitioners Accountable for Medical Malpractice
Everyone deserves adequate healthcare, but Black families often struggle to receive it. If maternal mortality is specifically linked to biased medical practitioners failing to provide sufficient treatment, this same bias likely pervades the rest of the field.
If you have experienced inadequate care that you believe is linked to your race, you do not have to fight alone. Instead, you can work with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to hold your healthcare team accountable. Your attorney can help you:
- Determine if you have grounds for a malpractice claim
- Collect evidence that you received inadequate or negligent treatment
- Demonstrate how the negligent care you experienced caused ongoing harm
- Submit your claim and negotiate or litigate the matter to achieve the best possible settlement.
At the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, we specialize in helping victims of medical malpractice seek justice for their losses. We have decades of experience representing California malpractice victims and pursuing fair compensation for the losses they’ve suffered. Learn more about how we can assist you with your racial bias medical malpractice claim by scheduling your case review with our skilled birth injury attorneys today.