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Most U.S. Doctors Have Racial Bias: Study

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Like most Americans, doctors have a subconscious preference for whites over blacks, a bias that may affect the health care given to minority patients, suggests a new study.

Researchers analyzed data collected from 2,535 medical doctors of both sexes and diverse racial groups who took a test that measured race attitudes. Overall, doctors showed an implicit preference for whites over blacks, with the exception of black doctors, who tended not to favor either racial group.

The doctors were among 404,277 people who took the test. The majority of them displayed the same sort of preference for whites over blacks. The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

While bias is common in the general population, people aren't "racist" if they "hold an implicit bias," according to lead author Janice Sabin, an acting assistant professor in the Department of Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Washington.

"The implicit bias effect among all the test-takers is very strong," Sabin said in a news release. "People who report they have a medical education are not different from other people, and this kind of unconscious bias is a common phenomenon."

"The biggest take home is that medical doctors are similar to others, that unconscious attitudes and stereotypes may affect quality of care, and that increased self-awareness may be one way to address any effects unconscious attitudes may have on behaviors that lead to health care disparities," she said.

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