*A new, very unsettling, study was published this month in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. It revealed that although doctors said similar things to black and white patients on their deathbed, the doctors nonverbal behavior showed a lack of compassion for the black patients. This racial bias was revealed by actors used to portray black “patients” and their family members. And they said doctors showed less compassionate care for them than they did with white “patients.
According to HuffPost, researchers studied 33 hospital-based doctors from western Pennsylvania, placing them in “high-fidelity” simulations in which the actor patients read from matching scripts while exhibiting the same simulated vital signs. Each “patient” was accompanied by another actor who was pretending to be a family member.
The doctors knew that they were part of a study, but they were not told what the study was about.
“Although we found that physicians said the same things to their black and white patients, communication is not just the spoken word,” Dr. Amber E. Barnato, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, explained, according to HuffPost. “It also involves nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, body positioning and touch.”
And with that said, it was added that black “patients” were left wanting when it came to those nonverbal cues.
Nonverbal behavior can include things such as standing closer to the patients bedside; and even touching the patient in a sympathetic manner.
Yet with black patients the doctors were more likely to stand by the door with a binder in their hand.
I can see this so clearly. Though I wasn’t dying, I recall a time when I awakened after having a colonoscopy; to the sound of someone calling my name. I slowly opened my eyes and finally turned to see the white doctor who was practically a mile away…with his hands on the partially opened door, calling for me to wake up, as if I was keeping him from lunch or something.
Patients interpret such behavior as defensive or disengaged. I know I did.
The audio and video of the experiment showed doctors’ interactions with both races of patients, and they were analyzed by researchers who provided the doctors with a score on their nonverbal communication. On average, each doctor scored 7 percent lower for interactions with the black actors, according to HuffPost.
“Poor nonverbal communication—something the physician may not even be aware he or she is doing—could explain why many black patients perceive discrimination in the health care setting,” Barnato added in a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center press release.
Read more at The Root.