White Patients’ Reactions to Treatment Can Be Impacted by the Race of Their Healthcare Provider

A new study by researchers at Stanford University, the University of Washington, and the University of Zurich in Switzerland finds that the bodies of White patients who were given placeboes reacted to the treatment differently depending on the race of the healthcare provider.

A large group of White patients was given a skin-prick test to determine if they had various allergies. The health care provider then gave the White subjects a cream that they were told would alleviate any irritation from the test. In fact, the cream was a placebo that provided no relief.

Patients of Black providers had stronger allergic reactions compared to those with White and Asian providers, both immediately following the skin prick test and after they had received the placebo cream. This was true even though the subjects rated the Black healthcare providers as warmer and more competent.

“These results illustrate how notions of race can influence patients beneath the surface —literally under the skin—despite their professed intentions and even to their own detriment,” the author wrote.

“Contending with racial and gender inequities involves more than momentary individual effort or the desire to see those inequities disappear,” the authors concluded. “What our society exposes us to across a lifetime accumulates and seeps under the skin, altering how our bodies respond and heal. Whether we want it to or not, our history of exposure leaves its trace.”

The full study, “White Patients’ Physical Responses to Healthcare Treatments Are Influenced by Provider Race and Gender,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. It may be accessed here.

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