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Detecting Bias in Medical Treatment

Bias has become a buzzword in recent years, but what does it really mean? And how can it play a role in your medical treatment? Bias is holding a prejudicial view for or against something, and it can apply to a person or group of people. Biases are often unconscious, but that does not make their effects any less difficult. Nor does it make it excusable to act with bias when you are in a position of power. 

However, not everyone has taken the time to understand their own biases. This means you may be on the receiving end of someone’s unfair and prejudicial viewpoints. Rather than have to accept this, there are some ways to recognize when someone’s biases could be affecting you, specifically in your medical treatment. 

Is your pain being downplayed or dismissed?

According to Elizabeth Reynolds Losin, Ph.D., who serves as director for the Social and Cultural Neuroscience Lab at the University of Miami, “Women and members of minority groups have been found to report more pain and receive less pain treatment.” This puts women, people of color (POC), and members of the LGBTQ+ community at higher risk for less than stellar treatment. Implicit bias could be the reason your medical treatment seems to be ignoring your pain. If you’ve heard a physician tell you to “suck it up” or “get over it” or “it can’t be that bad,” then you could be experiencing bias. This is not to say bias is always at work, but take note of what was said in some way and continue to pay attention to how your doctor responds to your reports of pain. 

Do you keep getting recommendations for psychotherapy and nothing for physical pain? 

A study conducted by the Journal of Pain showed that participants were likely to assume women were exaggerating when talking about their pain, and they were more likely to recommend psychotherapy as the appropriate treatment. In essence, women are more likely to be told their pain is “all in their head” instead of having it validated. This means women, and by extension POC and LGBTQ+ individuals, could be gaslighted by their healthcare providers because of an unconscious bias. In fact, the National Academy of Medicine explored this problem in 2002 and found that social factors in general can have a direct impact on medical treatment. Again, this is not proof that bias is occurring, but it is something to be aware of. 

What do I do if I suspect bias is affecting my medical treatment? 

It is hard to avoid bias altogether because it can be so ingrained and unconscious. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up or give in. Try one or all of these steps: 

  1. Bring an advocate with you, like a close friend or family member. That way you will have another opinion on what may or may not be going on. They can be a witness to what is said and how your medical provider responds to your needs. 
  2. When you talk to your doctor, be specific and detailed about what you are experiencing. Keep an ongoing record of symptoms and treatments you have already tried. This will give you clear documentation of your treatment. 
  3. If you’re at all uncomfortable, you can always look for a new doctor. If you need help, here are some tips on how to find a new pain management doctor, but these tips can be applied to finding any new doctor. 

Are you concerned about your current pain management treatments? It may be time to look into other options. You can always contact Integrated Pain Solutions to learn more about our treatments and our diverse team of pain management specialists. Give us a call at (614) 383-6450 to schedule an appointment.

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