The healthcare workforce in the United States is becoming increasingly diverse, gradually shifting society away from the historical overrepresentation of White men among physicians. However, given the long-standing underrepresentation of people of color and women in the medical field, patients may still associate the concept of doctors with White men and may be physiologically less responsive to treatment administered by providers from other backgrounds. To investigate this, we varied the race and gender of the provider from which White patients received identical treatment for allergic reactions and measured patients’ improvement in response to this treatment, thus isolating how a provider’s demographic characteristics shape physical responses to healthcare. A total of 187 White patients experiencing a laboratory-induced allergic reaction interacted with a healthcare provider who applied a treatment cream and told them it would relieve their allergic reaction. Unbeknownst to the patients, the cream was inert (an unscented lotion) and interactions were completely standardized except for the provider’s race and gender. Patients were randomly assigned to interact with a provider who was a man or a woman and Asian, Black, or White. A fully blinded research assistant measured the change in the size of patients’ allergic reaction after cream administration. Results indicated that White patients showed a weaker response to the standardized treatment over time when it was administered by women or Black providers. We explore several potential explanations for these varied physiological treatment responses and discuss the implications of problematic race and gender dynamics that can endure “under the skin,” even for those who aim to be bias free.
Source: White patients’ physical responses to healthcare treatments are influenced by provider race and gender | PNAS