Addressing Unconscious Bias in Health Care
With the death of George Floyd and health care disparities being spotlighted by the influx of CoronaVirus cases in African Americans and Hispanics, there has never been a better time to address social justice and health equality for all. Nurses are taught to advocate for patients through policies and regulations to improve patient outcomes. However, an important part of health equality is recognizing individual unconscious bias and being aware of how that influences patient care.
According to Simply Psychologists (2020), unconscious biases are unconscious attitudes and stereotypes towards certain groups of people as a result of trying to distinguish patterns in our minds. These biases are developed through many contributing factors including culture, media, family and can manifest in the healthcare system.
Addressing this topic can be particularly challenging because many do not know that they even have an unconscious bias. However, our healthcare system needs to be accountable for its contribution to the disparities that plague the nation. I have listed a few solutions to continue the movement towards health equity and addressing unconscious biases in health care.
We all have assumptions in our minds regarding the people we meet, their personality, traits, and beliefs. Over time, these assumptions become a part of our belief system and are activated without intentional control. Notice that assumption when you are providing patient care. The unconscious portion of unconscious bias is related to the fact that we are unaware that the bias exists and how it’s affecting the care we give. Becoming self-aware of your bias, allows you to address the bias and learn how to remove the bias from the care provided.
Interpreters should be a basic standard for communication with patients who speak other languages. These services are often seen as an inconvenience for providers. It is important that every provider recognizes that interpretation and translation is the bare minimum needed for communication for patients who speak foreign languages and are essential for eliminating unconscious bias.
Every health care program including medical, nursing, and allied health programs should strive to include some type of bias training. It should also be included in facility orientation courses as mandatory learning. The training should include why biases exist, determine its influence on decision-making, and how to ensure it is not reflected in a way that negatively affects patient care. All providers should receive this training so that they are better equipped with tools and skills to address unconscious biases within themselves.
Closing the gap in health care disparaties will take much more than these three solutions. However, awareness is the first step towards true reformation!