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How someone’s race puts them at risk for medical malpractice

Your race, skin color and nation of origin should have no impact on the way that people treat you. Under the law, everyone should have equal treatment and equal rights without consideration of protected characteristics like race.

In the real world, unfortunately, race and skin color have negative impacts on people’s lived experiences. One of the more surprising and devastating ways is that they might experience medical malpractice because their doctor fails to diagnose them or treat them properly because of the color of their skin.

How common is racial bias among medical professionals?

Shockingly, as recently as 2016, at least half of the medical students responding to a survey about race agreed with inaccurate and racist statements. For example, it is common for doctors to believe that patients with darker skin:

  • Have thicker skin
  • Have less sensitive nerve endings than those with lighter skin tones
  • Have blood that coagulates more quickly
  • Have smaller brains than people of other races
  • Age more slowly
  • Have denser bones
  • Are inherently more fertile

While there is no medical evidence supporting these claims, the internal bias and cultural ideas that support them are still endemic in modern society. Even students intelligent enough to make it into medical school still believe these racial lies. These beliefs will inform how these aspiring medical professionals provide care.

What does racial bias mean for patients?

Obviously, if a physician thinks that a patient doesn’t feel pain as much, they will be less sensitive in their care of that patient and will potentially offer less in the way of pain management. Inadequate pain management can lead to all sorts of adverse outcomes for people, including shock and death.

Other patients may suffer unnecessarily due to a failed diagnosis because a physician ignores their self-reported symptoms or makes other assumptions based on faulty beliefs about racial differences. If you have experienced medical discrimination or improper care that has affected your health, your family or your ability to work, you may be able to hold the physician involved accountable for the damage they did.