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New perspective diminishes racial bias in pain treatment
Date:3/7/2011

MADISON Years of research show black patients getting less treatment in the American health care system than their white counterparts, but a new study suggests that a quick dose of empathy helps close racial gaps in pain treatment.

College students and nurses went to greater lengths to ease the pain of members of their own race in a study led by Brian Drwecki, a psychology graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"I want to be very clear about this: We're not saying health care professionals are racist," Drwecki says. "This is not racism. Racism is a conscious act of hate. We find it very unlikely that health care professionals are aware that they are making these biases, let alone trying to actively hurt black patients."

Empathy emerged as a strong unconscious factor driving racial bias in pain treatment in the study, published online in February in the journal PAIN by Drwecki and colleagues from UW-Madison and the University of Northern British Columbia.

Study subjects watched the faces of shoulder pain sufferers in videos recorded while the patients were being put through range-of-motion tests. After assessing the patients' grimaces and furrowed brows, the study participants doled out treatment (pain medication, physical therapy, massage and acupuncture) in varying amounts.

White participants ordered significantly more pain treatment for white patients, and scored higher on tests measuring the empathy they felt for the patients who received preferential treatment. Despite a vast difference in experience and knowledge the students had no medical training, while nurses are often directly involved in trying to monitor pain and keep patients comfortable the two groups showed very similar biases.

"The students' results were consistent with the nurses' results, supporting the idea that individuals are predisposed to racial bias in pain treatment before or after health care training," Drwecki
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Contact: Brian Drwecki
drwecki@wisc.edu
608-234-0616
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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