Study: heart patients may get race or gender bias in treatment

Dr. Charlene Evans-Offiong

A new study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that, based on race and sex, there may hidden biases in the treatment of cardiovascular patients.

Subconscious prejudices among doctors may help explain why women and blacks complaining of chest pain are less likely than men and whites to receive the best cardiac testing, the study suggests. Previous epidemiological studies have found such differences in care, but were explained by financial barriers, differences in preference, clinical presentation of illness, and access to care.

This computerized statistical study addressed these issues by using actors to represent patients with identical histories, clothed in identical medical gowns, and having identical insurances and occupations, to remove the issue of socioeconomic status and clinical presentation.

Out of 720 physicians, it was noted that blacks and women were 40% less likely to be referred for cardiac catheterization in comparison to whites and males. For black women the results were even more striking the results were that they were 60% less likely to be referred for this exam. Cardiac catheterization is considered to be the "gold standard" diagnostic test for heart disease. It involves squirting dye into cardiac arteries, then X-raying them to find blockages and determine the best treatment. It is important that Black Americans become more educated about health-care issues, especially those predominant in the black community. Blacks and women often suffer from "white coat syndrome," intimidation which inhibits them from asking questions, and conversing with the physician on clinical decisions that affects their health and lives.

Getting a second doctor's opinion is always recommended for patients who do not feel comfortable with a physician's opinion.

Dr. Charlene Evans-Offiong is an Associate Editor of The Black Business Journal