'Misleading Beliefs' of Med Students May Lead to Racial Bias in Pain Management, Study Says

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Source:   —  April 08, 2016, at 3:25 AM

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National School of Sciences journal, builds on a growing body of proof that's found that when it comes to pain management, black patients are sometimes treated differently than white patients.

'Misleading Beliefs' of Med Students May Lead to Racial Bias in Pain Management, Study Says

Some white medical students may have a racial bias that affects how they evaluate the pain of black patients, according to a new study.

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National School of Sciences journal, builds on a growing body of proof that's found that when it comes to pain management, black patients are sometimes treated differently than white patients.

Lead author Kelly Hoffman, a psychology doctoral candidate at the Univ of Virginia, told ABC News that the researchers wanted to realize what factors were at work in exacerbating this disagreement in how black and white patients are treated.

"For a long time we’ve known there are really large racial disparities in health and health care, in pain management this is really [striking]," Hoffman told ABC News.

The team asked two hundred twenty-two white medical students from the Univ of VA to read two mock medical cases about a black patient and a white patient and then rate their perceived pain on a scale of one to ten. They then had the medical students weigh in on statements regarding biological differences between races. These supposed "facts" about biological differences were nearly all fake and included misleading statements such as "Blacks’ nerve endings are less sensitive than whites'," "Blacks’ skin is thicker than whites'," and "Blacks have stronger immune systems than whites."

Of the fifteen statements, four were true. These statements were that black patients were more at risk for heart sickness and stroke, had denser bones than whites, and were at less risk to contract spinal cord diseases.

The study authors found that about fifty % of the medical students thought that one of the fake statements was "possibly, probably, or definitely true."

If a medical learner had misleading beliefs, they were more likely to indicate a "racial bias" in how they assessed and recommended treating the pain of white and black patients, the study found.

"Participants who endorsed more misleading beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites showed a racial bias in the accuracy of their treatment recommendations," according to the study'south findings.

The study focused on white medical students to study if there was a bias along racial lines and if white doctors weren't able to accurately evaluate pain of black patients. The researchers also performed the experiment with one hundred six non-white medical students, but they didn't discover any of the same correlations they found in the white participants and didn't comprise these findings in the final study.

These preliminary findings may be a first step in understanding why there is a racial bias in pain management, Hoffman said, but she cautioned there needs to be further study. The study found an organization between racial bias and believing in these misleading statements but it didn't yet prove this bias is actually caused by believing these misleading statements. Additionally, the study was done in a laboratory setting and may not reflect what happens to doctors or medical students when they’re in a genuine hospital with real patients.

Hoffman said she was still shocked at how many medical students believed in at minimum one of the misleading statements.

"Initially we were a small bit surprised at the % of endorsement among medical residents," Hoffman told ABC News. "Things love black skin is thicker than white... It’s just striking for some of the them."

The study authors also found that if medical students didn't believe any of the misleading biological facts, they didn't indicate bias in how they perceived pain in a black or white patient.

In the second portion of the study, researchers had ninety-two lay people undergo the same exercise. In that study, seventy-three % of people believed at minimum one misleading fact. They found the more a person believed in these misleading facts the more likely they were to lower pain estimates for black people than for white people.

Dr. Monika Goyal, who published an article latest year on racial disparities in pain management in children who'd appendectomies, said this kind of study is key in understanding racial bias in health care and finding a way to counteract it.

"My study demonstrated that there were racial differences in outcomes or in treatments [and] this study suggests that there are physician or medical professional biases that may affect care," said Goyal, helper Prof of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Children’s National Health System at George WA University. She said more study would be needed to fully connect doctors' assumptions and racial biases to how patients are cared for.

She said she was also shocked to look how many medical students believed made-up facts about biological differences between races.

"I think that deserves further investigation," she said of medical students believing misleading biological facts. "I think that was very surprising to me."

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