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Racism is real. As people of color, we encounter or witness it in some way, shape or form just about every day. But to think that our people have to deal with something so ugly on their death beds is truly heartbreaking. However, according to a new study, prejudice and racism manifest in hospital rooms more frequently than one would think.

According to the Huffington Post, the study, which was published in the January issue of the Journal of Pain and Symptoms Management, black patients who are terminally ill receive less compassion from doctors than their white counterparts.

The study was conducted on 33 real, hospital-based physicians in the western Pennsylvania area. Each doctor was placed in “high fidelity” simulations in which they were required to interact with actors portraying dying patients and their family members. Each “patient” read from the same script and showed matching simulated vital signs. While doctors were aware that they were participating in a study, they did not know the specifics of what researchers were looking for. The findings of the study were quite alarming.

“Although we found that physicians said the same things to their black and white patients, communication is not just the spoken word,” explained Dr. Amber E. Barnato, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “It also involves nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, body positioning, and touch.”

And in these instances, doctors fell short when it came to their black patients. While explaining health conditions and discussing steps to follow, researchers noticed that the participating physicians stood closer to the bedside and were more likely to touch the subject in a compassionate way when the patient was white. When dealing with black patients, doctors were more likely to stand at the door while holding their binders, which made them appear defensive or disengaged.

After analyzing the audio and footage captured during the study, researchers gave each doctor a score based on their nonverbal behavior with patients. On average, the doctors’ interactions with their black patients received scores that were 7 percent lower than scores received for exchanges with their white patients. Dr. Barnato believes that healthcare providers can benefit from this kind of “experiential learning” because it would make them more self-aware.


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