Past studies have demonstrated that Black patients tended to be undertreated for pain relative to White patients. A new study by researchers at the University of Virginia has found that this undertreatment may be caused, in part, by racial bias.
The researchers surveyed a large group of White medical school students and residents. They found that many of these individuals would not prescribe enough pain medication for Black patients because they were worried that the African Americans would “abuse their medications.” The researchers surveyed the students and residents about possible biological differences between Blacks and Whites. The results showed that one half of all survey participants agreed with one or more statements about biological differences that are untrue.
Kelly Hoffman, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and lead author of the study, said that “we’ve known for a long time that there are huge disparities in how Blacks and Whites are assessed and treated by the medical community. Our study provides some insight to what might contribute to this – false beliefs about biological differences between Blacks and Whites.”
Hoffman added that “these beliefs are not necessarily related to individual prejudice. Many people who reject stereotyping and prejudice nonetheless believe in these biological differences. And these beliefs could be really harmful.”
The study, “Racial Bias in Pain Assessment and Treatment Recommendations, and False Beliefs About Biological Differences Between Blacks and Whites,” was published on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here.