How Racial Bias May Lead to Medical Malpractice

If there’s one industry you’d expect would be free of bias and discrimination, it would be medicine. Medical professionals are supposed to do no harm and help their patients live their best, healthiest lives. If they followed these guidelines, doctors, nurses, and other practitioners would give every person equal treatment according to their actual needs. 

Unfortunately, that’s not how medicine works. Healthcare workers are just as human as their patients, which means they have conscious and unconscious biases that can affect how they do their jobs. This can be a serious problem for many patients because it often leads to worse or even negligent care. 

For example, a recent OB/GYN medicine study found that Black mothers are 53% more likely to die during childbirth at a hospital than White or Hispanic mothers. This appears to be due to bias by the medical professionals caring for them. 

The study found that 0.8% of all Black mothers died or suffered a serious injury during labor, compared to 0.5% of Hispanic mothers and 0.4% of White mothers. The gap remained even after adjusting for factors like income, hospital type, and insurance coverage. Nearly one in a hundred Black mothers will die or be injured during birth, and the most likely differentiating factor is the attitude of the people who are supposed to care for them. 

This is far from the only circumstance where people of color are likely to receive worse care because of medical racism. While these incidents are tragic, victims do have options to fight back. If medical professionals fail to give someone necessary treatment because of their race, they are neglecting their duties and may be liable for medical malpractice. Below, you can learn why conscious and unconscious racial bias in healthcare can affect patient outcomes and how you can fight back after an injury or death.

How Racial Bias May Lead to Worse Outcomes for Patients

The study on maternal mortality rates is just one piece of evidence in a growing wave of research documenting medical racism and its impact on Black patients and other people of color. These studies explicitly control for details that detractors argue are the real cause: education, access to healthcare, income, and location. Consistently, they show that minorities are more likely to suffer from poor healthcare than White patients, even if they are in the same socioeconomic class, hospital system, and insurance. 

This is even true in places like California, where attitudes are generally more accepting. The cause appears to be unconscious bias on the part of healthcare workers. Unconscious bias results from internalized stereotypes and may be present even in people who consciously understand that racism is harmful. These stereotypes may include false ideas such as:

  • Black people have higher pain tolerances than people of other races
  • Minorities are more likely to seek drugs than White patients
  • Minorities are more likely to “be responsible” for their health conditions
  • Minorities are less likely to understand their bodies or conditions

If a healthcare worker has these unconscious prejudices, they are more likely to treat patients poorly and ignore standards of care even if they consciously know better. This is likely the reason for common forms of negligence such as:

  • Under-prescribing pain medication for emergency injuries, after surgeries, and for chronic conditions, leading to more significant stress on the body and slower healing, on the assumption that they are addicts or won’t feel as much pain.
  • Refusing treatment or medication for conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease and insisting that the patient change their lifestyle despite indications that the issue has another cause.
  • Ignoring the patient’s reported experiences and misdiagnosing them because the healthcare team assumes they don’t understand what’s happening.

All of this can be considered medical malpractice if it causes avoidable harm to the patient.

Fighting Back Against Biased Care and Negligence

You can fight back if you or a loved one are suffering from negligent medical care because of your race. Here’s how you can stand up for your right to fair treatment:

  • Bring a medical advocate into the room. Medical professionals who may dismiss your concerns when you’re alone are likely to give you more focused attention if someone else is present. Take a family member or friend into exams with you as a witness and ensure that your healthcare team takes your concerns seriously.
  • Have your treatment noted in your medical record. If you aren’t given appropriate treatment, you have a right to have that record in your medical records. If you are refused treatment or testing for a health concern, request that the healthcare worker write that in your medical record. This builds a paper trail if you need to file a medical malpractice claim. 
  • Get a second opinion. While bias is common, many healthcare workers will still treat you fairly. If you think you’ve been misdiagnosed or harmed by medical malpractice, get an examination from an unaffiliated medical professional to document its impact on you.
  • Consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Finally, you should talk to a lawyer about your case if you’ve been seriously injured or a loved one has died. 

Hold Healthcare Accountable for Biased Treatment

You have the right to quality healthcare regardless of your race. You may be able to hold negligent healthcare workers accountable for racially discriminatory treatment by taking legal action. You can pursue compensation for your injuries, including the costs of getting additional care, lost wages, and pain and suffering. To begin this process, you can schedule your complimentary consultation with The Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC. Our expert team is dedicated to assisting people who have suffered from negligent medical care, regardless of the reason. We offer comprehensive legal representation to help you collect evidence regarding your claim and pursue just compensation in the courtroom and at the negotiation table. Get in touch today to learn how we can help you.

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