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Reducing Racial Bias Among Health Care Providers: Lessons from Social-Cognitive Psychology

Abstract

The paper sets forth a set of evidence-based recommendations for interventions to combat unintentional bias among health care providers, drawing upon theory and research in social cognitive psychology. Our primary aim is to provide a framework that outlines strategies and skills, which can be taught to medical trainees and practicing physicians, to prevent unconscious racial attitudes and stereotypes from negatively influencing the course and outcomes of clinical encounters. These strategies and skills are designed to: l) enhance internal motivation to reduce bias, while avoiding external pressure; 2) increase understanding about the psychological basis of bias; 3) enhance providers’ confidence in their ability to successfully interact with socially dissimilar patients; 4) enhance emotional regulation skills; and 5) improve the ability to build partnerships with patients. We emphasize the need for programs to provide a nonthreatening environment in which to practice new skills and the need to avoid making providers ashamed of having racial, ethnic, or cultural stereotypes. These recommendations are also intended to provide a springboard for research on interventions to reduce unintentional racial bias in health care.

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Acknowledgments

Dr. Burgess is supported by a Merit Review Entry Program Award from VA HSR&D. Dr. Saha is supported by awards from the VA HSR&D Advanced Career Development Program and the Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars Program. The authors would like to thank Dr. Hanna Bloomfield for her helpful comments.

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Burgess, D., van Ryn, M., Dovidio, J. et al. Reducing Racial Bias Among Health Care Providers: Lessons from Social-Cognitive Psychology. J GEN INTERN MED 22, 882–887 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-007-0160-1

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KEY WORDS

  • provider behavior
  • disparities
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • social cognition