Thinking About Race: Overcoming Medical Bias
Medical bias can be deadly, by Damon Centola, in The Baltimore Sun, December 6, 2021
“In the largest study of its kind to date, a 2020 analysis of more than 3 million U.S. patients’ hospital admissions between 2012 and 2017 found that adults who are Black or from other underrepresented racial or ethnic groups received up to 10% fewer early treatments for heart problems than white patients. Medical bias according to race and gender is so powerful that even mega stars like Serena Williams have nearly died from it.
Institutions including medical schools and hospitals have responded to the problem of bias with implicit bias training— the use of cognitive techniques to make people aware of their internalized assumptions about race and gender. But the data show that it doesn’t work. Being taught directly about one’s own internalized assumptions unfortunately doesn’t seem to alter behavior. So, what can we do about bias that is unconscious, pervasive and threatens the lives of millions of Americans?
In a study published this month in the journal Nature Communications, my colleagues and I discovered a surprisingly effective answer: an online group reasoning technique known as networked collective intelligence, which basically means getting doctors to exchange treatment options with one another. Think of it as a group chat for specialists.
While no single discovery or innovation can eradicate race and gender bias from medicine, using egalitarian networks to improve medical care could spark a badly needed paradigm shift, where we train future clinicians to seek answers through peer problem-solving networks rather than deferring to seniority. We have known for some time that biased norms in healthcare are reinforced and strengthened by traditional medical networks. But clinical networks can improve upon the traditional logic of medical authority by relying on collective intelligence, which can reduce flaws in clinical reasoning in a way individual approaches cannot.”
This column is prepared by the BYM Working Group on Racism (WGR) and sent to the designated liaison at each local Meeting. The BYM WGR meets most months on the first Saturday, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, currently via Zoom. If you would like to attend, contact the clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org.