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Implicit bias in US medicine: complex findings and incomplete conclusions

Makini Chisolm-Straker (Department of Emergency Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York, USA)
Howard Straker (George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, District of Columbia, USA)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 13 March 2017




Implicit bias is the application of an unconscious attitude or belief; in the clinical setting, a provider’s perception of a patient, based upon perceived race or ethnicity, is hypothesized to affect clinical decisions, provider-patient interactions and patient health. The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief synopsis of and critique the relevant works over the past 15 years while highlighting the strengths of this body of literature.


A MEDLINE search, from 2000 to 2015, using the terms “implicit bias,” “unconscious bias” and “aversive racism” was performed. US-based studies investigating the effect of racial or ethnic implicit bias on the clinical encounter or patient outcomes were assessed. In total, 15 articles were eligible for review.


Despite well-reasoned hypotheses that racial/ethnic bias negatively affects patient care, this review found mixed results. Largely, studies showed that US-providers hold an anti-black implicit bias negatively affecting patient-provider communication and patient satisfaction. But studies have not shown that this bias consistently negatively affects diagnosis and treatment regimens of black patients in comparison to white patients. There is a significant dearth of implicit bias literature addressing the care of other patient groups of color.


This review of the recent literature challenges the black-white dichotomy of most implicit bias research in the USA and highlights the lack of patient-oriented outcome research in this field. Furthermore, it demonstrates that regardless of the effect of implicit bias on patient outcomes, focus on eliminating implicit bias is insufficient to improve the health of people of color.



Chisolm-Straker, M. and Straker, H. (2017), "Implicit bias in US medicine: complex findings and incomplete conclusions", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 43-55.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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