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Doctors may have cultural bias towards poor patients

A Florida resident who is sick, hurt or injured has a right to believe that he or she will receive the best care available when they go to the hospital. A new study suggests, however, that not all patients are treated equally. According to the study, low-income patients are less likely to file a lawsuit against a negligent doctor who may have committed medical malpractice.

Researchers investigated and analyzed the rates at which patients filed a lawsuit against a medical professional. They discovered that patients who are wealthier were more likely to sue a doctor for malpractice. The results of the study suggests that doctors, unconsciously or not, may exhibit cultural bias when treating a patient.

Some doctors and hospitals may see lower-income patients as more of a liability. In some cases, doctors will not even treat these patients. If they do, they may not spend as much time with or provide as good of care to a patient who they believe will not be able to pay for their services. If a doctor provides substandard care to a patient based on these discriminatory prejudices, they are putting their patients' lives at risk.

In addition to the payment prejudices, the notion that low-income patients are less litigious than a wealthier patient may lead to additional discrimination. A doctor may wrongfully believe that any mistreatment or mistakes made with a low-income patient will go unpunished. They may, then, focus their energy and care on treating wealthier patients who may have the time and money to pursue a lawsuit in the event of an error.

This unfair bias may exist consciously or unconsciously on the part of the doctor. Doctors who exhibit discriminatory tendencies can face serious consequences. A physician or hospital employee who is negligent or responsible for causing serious injury to any patient should be held accountable.

Source: U.S. News, "Poor Patients Less Likely to Sue Doctors, Analysis Shows," Feb 28, 2012

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