Racial perceptions rooted in part in genetics influence how doctors treat patients

| | December 1, 2015
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An 8-year-old black girl is repeatedly hospitalized for lung infections. None of her doctors can figure out what’s wrong. Finally, a doctor looks at her X-ray without knowing her race and correctly diagnoses her with cystic fibrosis. None of the other medical professionals had considered cystic fibrosis because of the myth that certain genetic traits exist only in certain races—the myth that black people don’t get cystic fibrosis. It’s a classic case of misdiagnosis based on racial assumptions.

The racial concept of disease — that people of different races suffer from different diseases and experience common diseases differently — goes back centuries to the promotion of slavery. White slaveholders argued that, because of their biological peculiarities, enslavement was the only condition in which black people could be healthy, productive, and disciplined.

Today, medicine perpetuates this long history of defining disease in racial terms. Medical students are taught to treat their patients according to race, and this contributes to the racial inequities that plague every aspect of medical care. For example, studies show that blacks and Latinos are less likely than white patients to receive pain medication for the same injuries. Some theories attribute this to stereotypes among healthcare providers that blacks and Latinos are more likely to exaggerate their pain, can stand more pain, or are predisposed to drug addiction.

Read full, original post: Transforming the Way We Think About Race in Medicine

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