College of Liberal Arts

Racial Bias Skews Medical Diagnosis and Treatment for African Americans, Research Shows

Mon, Apr 23, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — Pervasive racial bias in American medical practice adversely affects treatment and diagnosis for African American patients, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

Although the existence of racial bias in medical treatment and diagnosis has been well documented, a study by John Hoberman, professor of Germanic Studies, is the first to examine racial biases among currently practicing physicians. The findings are detailed in his book “Black & Blue: The Origins and Consequences of Medical Racism,” (University of California Press, April 2012).

“Rather than locate medical racism in the past, which has been the convention among medical historians, this book is the first systematic description of racially motivated medical behavior that analyzes both historical perspectives and current medical literature,” said Hoberman.

According to the findings, racial bias has infiltrated all of the medical sub-disciplines, including fields as diverse as cardiology, gynecology and psychiatry. In his book, Hoberman describes how mainstream American medicine has absorbed traditional racial stereotypes about African Americans and produced misguided interpretations of black children, elderly black people, black athletes, black pain thresholds and other aspects of black minds and bodies.

Hoberman also examines the black distrust of white medical professionals that has estranged African Americans from the medical establishment during the past hundred years. The health consequences of this dysfunctional relationship have caused great medical harm, he said.

Probing into the physicians’ private spheres, Hoberman uncovers a disturbing failure to acknowledge and address racially motivated thinking and the race relations problems that continue to affect American medicine. The fundamental question, he said, is whether a medical professional can be held accountable for correcting potentially harmful behaviors to better serve their African American patients.

Hoberman, whose major research areas include medical history and the racial dimension of medicine, said his research has important implications for continuing medical education and training of health professionals.

“The American medical establishment does not readily absorb either historical or current information about medical racism,” Hoberman said. “For this reason, racial enlightenment will not reach medical schools until the current race-aversive curricula include new historical and sociological perspectives.”

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