Inherent bias against people of color can affect pain management

Inherent bias against people of color can affect pain management

Chronic pain can drastically affect many areas of someone’s life. It can make it harder to get good sleep. The exhaustion that results can affect cognitive performance and mood. Chronic pain can also affect someone’s ability to perform their job. The pain may be so distracting that focusing mentally is difficult, or the pain may impact someone’s physical ability to perform the job.

There are many other ways that pain impacts someone’s life, and they may differ from person to person. What’s important to understand is that chronic pain is debilitating and can lead to depression and other serious mental health concerns, including suicidal ideation. When doctors fail to adequately assist patients with chronic pain, it can negatively affect their overall prognosis and may increase their risk of death by suicide.

Sadly, certain populations are more at risk for pain management neglect by doctors than others. People of color, especially African-Americans, are at elevated risk for receiving inadequate pain management from medical professionals.

Subtle racial bias impacts how doctors treat patients

survey of medical students found that many of them carry inaccurate perceptions of the African-American community. Some of them believe that black patients age more slowly than white patients. Many others (up to a quarter of residents surveyed) believe that darker skin is actually thicker than white skin. Still others believe that race somehow affects immune systems, fertility or the respiratory system.

These inaccurate beliefs can lead doctors to assume that black patients have higher pain tolerance as well. They may also believe that black patients are more likely to seek pain medication, out of an internalized bias that people of color are more likely to abuse drugs recreationally, despite statistics that indicate the opposite. The end result is that African-American patients often do not receive the same caliber of pain management care as white patients do.

Unmanaged pain can have a dire impact on patients

Pain is your body’s way to communicate that something is wrong. It places your nervous system and potentially your immune system under stress. The longer someone experiences severe pain, the harder it may be for them to recover from illnesses and injuries. More importantly, the pain can drastically affect their quality of life, which can lead to patients giving up.

Maintaining a positive attitude and a fighting spirit are often key to a positive long-term patient prognosis. Inadequate pain management could leave people more vulnerable to dying from their conditions or taking their own lives. Many patients have suffered needlessly due to the bias of a doctor, and too many families have lost a loved one to suicide due to unmanaged pain.

In some cases, it may be possible to hold a doctor accountable for failing to provide adequate care and treatment for a patient in severe and chronic pain. Medical records may indicate that the doctor provided more assistance to people of a different race with similar conditions or similar pain symptoms. It may be possible to argue that racial bias affected the standard of care provided by that doctor. If you believe that racial bias has impacted your care with a doctor or at a hospital, you should consult with someone who can advise you of your legal rights.



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