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When doctors make assumptions, patients may pay the price

Sometimes, your doctor must read between the lines to determine how to best test, diagnose and treat patients. This is particularly true for conditions that rely on accurate self-reporting. Conditions such as fibromyalgia might not show clear evidence beyond your own personal experience, for example.

However, Pennsylvania medical staff need to be careful when jumping to conclusions. The wrong assumption could lead to delayed care, incorrect diagnoses and other problems. There is a fine line between making a careful yet incorrect guess and assuming certain things about you without evidence.

Common forms of bias in medical care

A doctor’s bias could arise from several factors such as your age, weight, ethnicity, race, gender or sexuality. In fact, researchers have studied the many ways in which bias impacts patients.

A few examples of bias that can lead to medical errors include assuming that:

  • A patient with high weight can trace the cause of all health problems to their size, which could result in failure to properly investigate and treat issues
  • Women always overreport pain symptoms, which could cause insufficient prescription dosages or testing
  • Men always underreport symptoms, which may result in overprescribing medication such as pain killers
  • A black patient is less susceptible to skin cancer, which may lead to a lack of cancer screening or delayed cancer diagnosis
  • A patient of color or a young patient is unable to afford the care they need, leading to fewer options or more narrow treatment recommendations
  • A patient who struggles financially or is unemployed would abuse medication, which may prevent the doctor from prescribing medication appropriately
  • A patient who visits the clinic or hospital often must be a hypochondriac or seeking unnecessary medication, leading to doctors failing to take the patient’s concerns seriously

Data does not tell the whole story. Even if a patient is in a category that is particularly likely or unlikely to experience a condition, everyone is unique. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals must instead give patients equal consideration based on their symptoms and individual health factors.

What to do when doctors fail

If you do not receive impartial care and suffer an injury, a medical malpractice lawsuit could give you justice. You cannot sue a doctor for bias alone, nor is bias simple to prove. However, proving damages related to a medical error may be possible – including when bias was the underlying cause of the error.