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Physician Bias: Information & Survey Results

Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World

Published: 2016-01-22

Synopsis and Key Points:

Survey shows 40% of doctors admit to having some level of prejudice or bias towards specific types or populations of people.

Main Digest

A person's weight, emotional state, intelligence or even the type of insurance they have might affect the way their doctor perceives them, according to a survey of more than 15,800 doctors. Four out of ten doctors admit to having some level of prejudice or bias towards specific types or populations of people according to the survey.

Doctors from twenty-five specialties responded to the survey. Of those admitting to some type of bias, the two most common triggers were people who experience issues with:

When doctors were asked to include additional triggers not listed on the survey, a number of them cited drug-seeking by people, malingering - meaning pretending to be sick or exaggerating it, drug abuse, people with chronic pain and people who did not comply with doctor's orders. Doctors most likely to admit to some level of bias include the following:

Radiologists, pathologists and cardiologists were the least likely to say they make judgments which are preconceived. The survey found a link between bias and doctor burnout defined as, 'loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, as well as a low sense of personal accomplishment.' Overall, 55% of doctors who said they are burned out also stated they held biases.

A small percentage of doctors who admitted bias in the survey said it actually affects their care of people, 14% of emergency room doctors; for example, and 12% of plastic surgeons. The effect of bias on treatment may be negative, positive or both. One-fourth of those whose perceptions of their patients affect treatment stated they tend to overcompensate and provide people with special care, while 29% said the treatment effects were negative.

Doctors who were younger, ages thirty-five and under, were the most likely to admit to prejudices at 50%. The percentage decreases with age, with 30% of doctors over the age of sixty-six saying they might be biased. The greatest percentage of doctors admitting bias were in the Northwest (49%) with slightly lower percentages found in the West and Southwest. In the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Southeast, 37% of doctors said they made preconceived judgments. Doctors who said they are socially liberal reported higher percentages of bias than those who said they are socially conservative.

The report appears to indicate burnout is an increasing issue among doctors. In the report, doctors stated they feel even greater effects of burnout than in prior years. Specialties with the highest rates of doctor burnout include the following:

Women were more likely to report burnout than men at 55% and 46% respectively. Doctors say bureaucratic tasks and long working hours are among the leading causes of burnout. Doctors are more burned out than other workers in America and the numbers go up each year. The situation is reaching critical levels with the number of doctors and the severity of burnout increasing in every medical specialty. The report also includes some additional findings.

Approximately one-fourth of doctors claim to have ever smoked marijuana, something that is unchanged from the last report. The first year questions about marijuana use were included. The heaviest use in both years was reported among doctors between the ages of fifty-six and sixty-five years of age at around one-third.

Doctors who prescribe medical marijuana stated they most often do so for management of pain. Other doctors said they prescribe marijuana for glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Twenty-six percent of women doctors claimed they are happy at work, compared to one-third of men. Ophthalmologists and dermatologists claimed to have the highest levels of happiness at work. Both women and men doctors reported about the same levels of happiness at home.

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