Examining Implicit Bias in Healthcare

From Julianne Adegoriolu – Clarkson University DPT Class of 2023


Why do we need to know about Implicit Biases in Healthcare? 


Implicit Biases are our subconscious mind’s attitude or stereotypes that affects our understanding, behaviors, and decisions that operates outside of our conscious awareness. It is adaptive behavior with many consequences. Our biases are formed over a lifetime, through our environment and experiences, which then influences our feelings and attitudes towards race, ethnicity, physical appearance, and age. 


Because of this, research has been done to see why we formulate these biases. Research has shown that the human brain is exposed to as many as 11 million pieces of information at any one given time and our brains can only functionally process and react to 40. How crazy is that?! This is the reason why our brains create shortcuts and preserve energy to process other important things in our day. 


In healthcare, implicit biases significantly impact patient care. A clinician’s goal in patient care is to treat all their patients equally. However, lack of awareness of their own unconscious biases can in turn become a negative effect on patient care. In essence we miss the blind spots in our brain that ultimately impact our clinical judgment. If we are not aware of our biases, we miss ways to provide optimal and individualized care to everyone that we treat.


How do we get rid of these biases? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Not all biases are negative, but more often than not they affect patient outcomes in a negative way. What we can do is equip ourselves with the right knowledge to ensure that our patients are getting the utmost care regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic background, health literacy or comorbidities. 


One of the best ways we can prevent and intervene against our biases- is becoming aware of when we are susceptible to acting on our biases.


So where do we start?…


  1. Implicit Association Test is a test that provides individuals information on their biases and provide a self-understanding of their attitudes and stereotypes 
  2. Be intentional when you self-reflect on the biases you have
  3. Create strategies for better decision making
  4. Be open minded to other sub-groups 
  5. Hold yourself and others accountable 


If you want more information check out the links below: