Racial Bias May Contribute to the Undertreatment of Pain for African Americans

lrg_University_of_VirginiaPast 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.

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  1. I agree with the study’s finding but sometimes wonder how the problem can be corrected. I recently had triple foot and ankle surgery that went well. The attending nurse in the was a person of color, like me. Her treatment of me during the 24 hours post surgery left no doubt that she either was totally incompetent or had something negative about black men. She refused to give me medication (painkillers) as was required and when she did, would give me with very little water. This left me so severely dehydrated, it took me more than five days to recover at home. So even as we blame the institution, studies need to focus on attitudes of the caregivers. Doctors might do an excellent job in the theater but nurses, who tend to be predominantly persons of color, particularly large American cities, care for inpatients. This particular nurse did not like me. I saw how she interacted my neighbor who happened to be a white. The difference between her treatment of me and my neighbor were like night and day.

    • It is too bad you did not ask for another nurse and or report the nurse to your patient advocacy personnel. You should have been assigned to one upon admittance.

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