When it comes to medical care - skin color matters

According to a new study when it comes to medical care - skin color matters.

The study found there is a racial bias in patient treatment and doctors are more likely to give better health care to whites than African Americans.

The researchers found that doctors have unintentional racist feelings that they are unaware of which can affect how they diagnose and treat patients.

The study, by the Disparities Solutions Center, affiliated to Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, is the first to deal with unconscious racial bias and how it can lead to inferior care for African-American patients.

For the study 220 doctors training in Boston and Atlanta to become emergency department physicians were asked to diagnose a hypothetical case in which a 50-year-old man arrived at the ED experiencing sharp pain.

The doctors were presented with two men, one white and one African-American, each 50 years old and complaining of chest pain and each with other symptoms of a heart attack.

The researchers found that most of the doctors were more likely to prescribe a potentially life-saving, clot-busting treatment for the white patients than for the African-American patient.

Lead researcher Alexander Green says doctors like others in the U.S. demonstrated unconscious biases based on race, and those biases affected the treatment the doctors would have given the two patients.

The patients were just computer-generated images seen by the doctors on a monitor and not real patients.

Other studies too have found that whites receive better medical care than blacks and experts agree the information is not new.

But this one differs in that it is the first to demonstrate the reason for the difference really is racial bias.

Following their evaluation of the two simulated patients, the doctors were then given an 'implicit association test' designed to reveal a person's unconscious views of blacks and whites.

Dr. Green says a high score on the bias against African-Americans portion of the test, showed doctors were less likely to provide clot-busting treatment for a heart attack for black patients.

Clot-busting drugs are considered one of the most effective treatments for the symptoms these doctors were presented with and can mean the difference between life and death.

The researchers hope the study will raise awareness amongst doctors regarding racial prejudice and make them consciously suspend such feelings when making critical decisions about patients.

The study also found that black doctors also showed bias against the black patient, though less than the white doctors.

The study is published in the online edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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