Taking a closer look at implicit bias: How it can affect health care

Posted at 4:48 PM, Jul 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-10 16:51:15-04

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order requiring healthcare workers to undergo implicit bias training to obtain or renew their medical licenses.

The governor went on to say that all fields of work should consider incorporating it.

Denise Evans, the president & CEO of Consult Me, LLC, specializes in implicit bias training for medical professionals.

“Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding and our actions and our decision making in an unconscious manner," she said.

Evans started several years ago after the number of maternal and infant deaths showed a disparity between Black and white mothers, which the governor mentioned in her press conference Thursday.

“Infant mortality is an indicator of the community’s health and well being," Whitmer said. "So, we’ve been able to recognize that our communities are not doing well.”

Now, with the public health crisis brought on by the coronavirus, these disparities have become more pronounced.

Black Michiganders make up 14% of the population but 40% of coronavirus deaths.

“COVID-19 didn’t create health disparities, it just amplified them for us to see.”

Evans said social determinants of health like economic status, education or access to affordable health care can play a role, but so can biases from medical workers.

But before anyone gets offended, she said, “Every single person that is alive and breathing has implicit biases. Biases affect our interactions with other people. When we come to the table all of our biases come along with us.”

Some wrote on the WXYZ Facebook page associating implicit or unconscious bias as being called a racist, but Evans says they are separate from one another.

Here’s an example of implicit bias. Denise said she’s heard Black patients not receiving pain medicine and saying they felt they were denied because the doctors assumed they were abusing drugs.

Another example, she says, is when medical professionals look at certain races and starting searching for a diagnosis based on that.

The first step to combat implicit bias is knowing that it is there, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and having honest conversations about the assumptions you might make about others.

“We are not even aware of what we are thinking before we act towards others and so the same thing holds true in healthcare.”

Wxyz by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

Physicians and Implicit Bias 2013 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd