Medical Treatment Varying by Sex and Race

Is there truly equality?
Do treatments by doctors vary by sex and race? Ideally, no. Doctors should be treating everyone equally and with the same quality of care. However, a recent study concluded that doctors' decisions are, indeed, influenced by the sex and race of the patient.

The Study
The researchers made a number of videos in which eight actors, four of each gender and four of either black or white race, described symptoms of chest pain. The eight actors took turns portraying two different patients.

These videos were shown to 720 doctors, about three quarters of whom were white males. It was found that the race and sex of the actors did influence the decisions of the doctors, who were unaware that these were actors and not real patients. In 90% of cases, the doctors recommended diagnostic testing for the patients. Treatment recommendations varied by sex and race. Black women were 60% less likely to be referred for cardiac surgery than were white males, even though they had an identical list of symptoms and results. Black males and white females were each 40% less likely to be recommended for the same surgery.

Another Factor
Although women and minorities should be aware of the potential for physician bias, there may be other factors involved. Women do show different symptoms, have different test results, and respond differently to treatments for the same diseases than do men. These differences are the basis of the new specialty of Women's Health. The Women's Health specialty is not Obstetrics and Gynecology, which only treats the female organs. Women's Health specialists are pioneering the research uncovering gender differences in various diseases found in both sexes. They are determining how treatment should be different for women in order to maximize a woman's chance of survival. The same is true for different ethnic and racial groups, as well.

With that said, you would wonder if these results were due to astute physicians being well informed about the differences between male and female heart disease. We do not know the details of what symptoms the patients pretended to have. However, it would be reasonable to strongly suspect that the results were indeed due to gender biases. A forty percent difference in treatment is too large a gap to explain with our current knowledge of differences. In fact, there are no differences known that would make a doctor legitimately recommend surgery in a man, but not in a woman. Some of the undertreatment of female patients with heart disease can be attributed to the myth that women have lower rates of heart disease than men do. This false belief is almost as strong among doctors as the public. What's more disturbing about these findings, is the implication that the undertreatment of certain groups is also due to doctors' devaluation of women and minority men as people. This suspicion is raised in the results in the black patients. Blacks actually have higher rates of heart disease and this is well known by doctors. Yet, the black men were treated less than the white men were.

Doctors need to be better educated on the true rates of heart disease in women. They need to be educated on the differences in male and female heart disease. However, none of that will do any good unless they view all their patients as equals. This is something that cannot be accomplished with a seminar.

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Copyright © 1999 GenneX Healthcare Technologies,Inc.


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