With extensive research finding that black patients receive less health care treatment than white individuals, a University of Wisconsin researcher recently found a simple adjustment in a doctor’s empathy can greatly reduce these discrepancies.
A team of UW researchers, led by graduate student Brian Drwecki, found both trained health care professionals and students untrained in medicine demonstrated biases in the amount of treatment issued and scores on a scale of empathy.
A UW statement said a test group of students and nurses watched video recordings of both black and white adults as they performed range-of-motion tests.
Drwecki said the individuals on film were actual patients suffering from acute shoulder pain.
After viewing the film, the statement said test subjects dispensed pain treatment to the patients in the clips and were surveyed on their levels of compassion for these individuals, he said.
Drwecki said at the conclusion of the study, as researchers predicted, white students and nurses recommended significantly more pain treatment for the white patients in the videos.
These subjects also indicated higher feelings of empathy for the white patients as opposed to their black counterparts, he said.
A separate facet of the research showed that these racial biases could be corrected with a simple perspective shift on the part of the treatment provider, Drwecki said.
“Simply asking the students and nurses to briefly put themselves in their patients’ shoes had a drastic effect on their decision,” the statement said.
The statement said after instructing the subjects to spend a moment imagining the situation from the patient’s perspective before making a decision, pain treatment was reduced by 98 percent for students and 55 percent for nurses.
Drwecki said the findings demonstrate the need for further research in actual treatment settings in order to address these differences.
He added empathy in health care settings is an area for research that could provide solutions for contrasting levels of care between races.
“The fact that the pain treatment gap could be closed so easily demonstrates the need for clinical trials of this study with real health care professionals in clinics that are known to have racial biases,” Drwecki said.