Health care providers play a unique, and intimate, role in the health and future of San Diego’s Black Legacy. Even with good intentions, providers may unknowingly contribute to health inequities. Implicit bias, when individuals act on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes without intending to do so, occurs among health care providers just as much as the wider population. 1 However, implicit bias in health care settings, and larger issues of structural racism, lead to poor birth outcomes such as preterm and low birthweight babies, and even maternal and infant death.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists acknowledges that racial bias within the health care system is contributing to the disproportionate number of pregnancy-related deaths among women of color. Providers spend less time with Black patients, ignore their symptoms, dismiss their complaints, and undertreat their pain. www.statnews.com/2019/07/10/pregnancy-related-deaths-implicit-bias/
Studies have noted that implicit bias influences patient-provider interaction and indicates that biases are likely to influence diagnosis and treatment decisions. This contributes to a higher allostatic load and adversely affects the health of the mother and fetus. FitzGerald, C., & Hurst, S. (2017). Implicit bias in healthcare professionals: a systematic review. BMC medical ethics, 18(1), 19. doi:10.1186/s12910-017-0179-8
In a community meeting of Black mothers in San Diego in 2018, women noted implicit biases and racism during provider-patient interactions, feeling disrespected and judged by clinic and medical providers, with 80% of women feeling their provider did not care about them. Data from State of California, Department of Public Health, Center for Health Statistics and Informatics, California Comprehensive Birth Files. Statistics prepared by the County of San Diego, Health and Human Services Agency, Public Health Services, Maternal, Child and Family Health Services.
In San Diego, Black infants are nearly 3 times more likely to die than White infants, are nearly 60% more likely to be born premature, and are nearly 2 times more likely to be born with low birthweight than White infants. Based on comparison of African-American/Black and White 2013-2017 average infant mortality rates (8.3 vs. 2.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively). Data from State of California, Department of Public Health, Center for Health Statistics and Informatics, Birth Cohort Statistical Master Files. Statistics prepared by County of San Diego, Health and Human Services Agency, Public Health Services.
California’s Black mothers are over 3 times more likely to die due to pregnancy or delivery complications than White mothers. Based on comparison of African-American/Black and White 2014-2018 average maternal and late maternal mortality rates (55.2 vs. 16.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, respectively). Data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Vital Statistics, Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2018 and Natality public-use data 2007-2018, on CDC WONDER Online Database. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov on Jun 9, 2020.
During 2013-2017, preterm African-American infants were more than twice (2.2 times) as likely to die as preterm White infants (54.2 vs. 24.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively). https://www.statnews.com/2019/07/10/pregnancy-related-deaths-implicit-bias/
These disparities persist irrespective of factors such as a mother’s income or education. An African-American woman with a college degree and a comfortable income still has a greater chance of giving birth prematurely than a White woman who didn’t graduate high school. https://www.washington.edu/news/2019/03/21/how-discrimination-ptsd-may-lead-to-high-rates-of-preterm-birth-among-african-american-women/
The best way to understand the role of implicit bias in health care is to examine our own biases. It is well documented that providers treat Black patients differently often with a lesser quality of care. Implicit bias training for providers shifts the burden of change from the individual to the systems level.
Senate Bill 464, also known as the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act, requires implicit bias training for all health care professionals working in perinatal services. The trainings should include:
The following are some resources to learn more about implicit biases in health care.
In addition, health care providers can play a role in being actively anti-racist and raising awareness of this issue by joining the Perinatal Equity Initiative’s Community Advisory Board or attending a meeting, and sharing information with your colleagues. You can also share and post the Black Legacy Now campaign resources in your office, clinic or colleagues.
“Doctors, like all other people, are subject to prejudice and discrimination. While bias can be a problem in any profession, in medicine, the stakes are much higher.”
Damon Tweedy, M.D, Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine