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Racial and Gender Bias in Health Care



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Racial and Gender Bias in Health Care


Another problem in the US medical practice is apparent racial and gender bias in health care. Racial bias seems fairly common; as discussed, African Americans are less likely than whites with the same health problems to receive various medical procedures (Samal, Lipsitz, & Hicks, 2012). [13] Gender bias also appears to affect the quality of health care (Read & Gorman, 2010). [14] Research that examines either actual cases or hypothetical cases posed to physicians finds that women are less likely than men with similar health problems to be recommended for various procedures, medications, and diagnostic tests, including cardiac catheterization, lipid-lowering medication, kidney dialysis or transplant, and knee replacement for osteoarthritis (Borkhoff et al., 2008). [15]

Other Problems in the Quality of Care


Other problems in the quality of medical care also put patients unnecessarily at risk. We examine three of these here:

  1. Sleep deprivation among health-care professionals. As you might know, many physicians get very little sleep. Studies have found that the performance of surgeons and medical residents who go without sleep is seriously impaired (Institute of Medicine, 2008). [16] One study found that surgeons who go without sleep for twenty-four hours have their performance impaired as much as a drunk driver. Surgeons who stayed awake all night made 20 percent more errors in simulated surgery than those who slept normally and took 14 percent longer to complete the surgery (Wen, 1998). [17]

  2. Shortage of physicians and nurses. Another problem is a shortage of physicians and nurses (Mangan, 2011). [18] This is a general problem around the country, but even more of a problem in two different settings. The first such setting is hospital emergency rooms. Because emergency room work is difficult and relatively low paying, many specialist physicians do not volunteer for it. Many emergency rooms thus lack an adequate number of specialists, resulting in potentially inadequate emergency care for many patients.

Rural areas are the second setting in which a shortage of physicians and nurses is a severe problem. As discussed further in , many rural residents lack convenient access to hospitals, health care professionals, and ambulances and other emergency care. This lack of access contributes to various health problems in rural areas.

  1. Mistakes by hospitals. Partly because of sleep deprivation and the shortage of health-care professionals, hundreds of thousands of hospital patients each year suffer from mistakes made by hospital personnel. They receive the wrong diagnosis, are given the wrong drug, have a procedure done on them that was really intended for someone else, or incur a bacterial infection.

An estimated one-third of all hospital patients experience one or more of these mistakes (Moisse, 2011). [19] These and other mistakes are thought to kill almost 200,000 patients per year, or almost 2 million every decade (Crowley & Nalder, 2009). [20] Despite this serious problem, a government report found that hospital employees fail to report more than 80 percent of hospital mistakes, and that most hospitals in which mistakes were reported nonetheless failed to change their policies or practices (Salahi, 2012). [21]

A related problem is the lack of hand washing in hospitals. The failure of physicians, nurses, and other hospital employees to wash their hands regularly is the major source of hospital-based infections. About 5 percent of all hospital patients, or 2 million patients annually, acquire an infection. These infections kill 100,000 people every year and raise the annual cost of health care by $30 billion to $40 billion (Rosenberg, 2011). [22]


Medical Ethics and Medical Fraud


A final set of problems concerns questions of medical ethics and outright medical fraud. Many types of health-care providers, including physicians, dentists, medical equipment companies, and nursing homes, engage in many types of health-care fraud. In a common type of fraud, they sometimes bill Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies for exams or tests that were never done and even make up “ghost patients” who never existed or bill for patients who were dead by the time they were allegedly treated. In just one example, a group of New York physicians billed their state’s Medicaid program for over $1.3 million for 50,000 psychotherapy sessions that never occurred. All types of health-care fraud combined are estimated to cost about $100 billion per year (Kavilanz, 2010). [23]

Other practices are legal but ethically questionable. Sometimes physicians refer their patients for tests to a laboratory that they own or in which they have invested. They are more likely to refer patients for tests when they have a financial interest in the lab to which the patients are sent. This practice, calledself-referral, is legal but does raise questions of whether the tests are in the patient’s best interests or instead in the physician’s best interests (Shreibati & Baker, 2011). [24]

In another practice, physicians have asked hundreds of thousands of their patients to take part in drug trials. The physicians may receive more than $1,000 for each patient they sign up, but the patients are not told about these payments. Characterizing these trials, two reporters said that “patients have become commodities, bought and traded by testing companies and physicians” and said that it “injects the interests of a giant industry into the delicate physician-patient relationship, usually without the patient realizing it” (Eichenwald & Kolata, 1999; Galewitz, 2009). [25] These trials raise obvious conflicts of interest for the physicians, who may recommend their patients do something that might not be good for them but would be good for the physicians’ finances.


KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • The US health-care model relies on a direct-fee system and private health insurance. This model has been criticized for contributing to high health-care costs, high rates of uninsured individuals, and high rates of health problems in comparison to the situation in other Western nations.

  • Other problems in US health care include the restrictive practices associated with managed care, racial/ethnic and gender bias in health-care delivery, hospital errors, and medical fraud.



FOR YOUR REVIEW


  1. Do you know anyone, including yourself or anyone in your family, who lacks health insurance? If so, do you think the lack of health insurance has contributed to any health problems? Write a brief essay in which you discuss the evidence for your conclusion.

  2. Critics of managed care say that it overly restricts important tests and procedures that patients need to have, while proponents of managed care say that these restrictions are necessary to keep health-care costs in check. What is your view of managed care?

[1] Halpern, M. T., Ward, E. M., Pavluck, A. L., Schrag, N. M., Bian, J., & Chen, A. Y. (2008). Association of insurance status and ethnicity with cancer stage at diagnosis for 12 cancer sites: A retrospective analysis. The Lancet Oncology, 9(3), 221–231.

[2] Wilper, A. P., Woolhandler, S., Lasser, K. E., McCormick, D., Bor, D. H., & Himmelstein, D. U. (2009). Health insurance and mortality in US adults. American Journal of Public Health, 99(12), 1–7.

[3] Baicker, K., & Finkelstein, A. (2011). The effects of Medicaid coverage—learning from the Oregon experiment. New England Journal of Medicine, 365(8), 683–685; Fisman, R. (2011, July 7). Does health coverage make people healthier? Slate.com. Retrieved fromhttp://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2011/07/does_health_coverage_make_people_healthier.html.

[4] Kaiser Family Foundation. (2012). State health facts. Retrieved fromhttp://www.statehealthfacts.org.

[5] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2011). Health at a glance 2011: OECD indicators. Paris, France: Author.

[6] Boffey, P. M. (2012, January 22). The money traps in US health care. New York Times, p. SR12.

[7] Boffey, P. M. (2012, January 22). The money traps in US health care. New York Times, p. SR12.

[8] Emanuel, E. J. (2011, November 12). Billions wasted on billing. New York Times. Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/2011/2012/billions-wasted-on-billing/?ref=opinion.

[9] Klein, E. (2012, March 2). High health-care costs: It’s all in the pricing. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/high-health-care-costs-its-all-in-the-pricing/2012/02/28/gIQAtbhimR_story.html.

[10] Samuelson, R. J. (2011, November 28). A grim diagnosis for our ailing health care system. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-grim-diagnosis-for-our-ailing-us-health-care-system/2011/11/25/gIQARdgm2N_story.html.

[11] International Federation of Health Plans. (2010). 2010 comparative price report: Medical and hospital fees by country. London, United Kingdom: Author.

[12] Kronick, R. (2009). Medicare and HMOs—The Search for Accountability. New England Journal of Medicine, 360, 2048–2050.

[13] Samal, L., Lipsitz, S. R., & Hicks, L. S. (2012). Impact of electronic health records on racial and ethnic disparities in blood pressure control at US primary care visits. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(1), 75–76.

[14] Read, J. G., & Gorman, B. M. (2010). Gender and health inequality. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 371–386.

[15] Borkhoff, C. M., Hawker, G. A., Kreder, H. J., Glazier, R. H., Mahomed, N. N., & Wright, J. G. (2008). The effect of patients’ sex on physicians’ recommendations for total knee arthroplasty. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 178(6), 681–687.

[16] Institute of Medicine. (2008). Resident duty hours: Enhancing sleep, supervision, and safety. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

[17] Wen, P. (1998, February 9). Tired surgeons perform as if drunk, study says. The Boston Globe, p. A9.

[18] Mangan, K. (2011). Proposals to cut federal deficit would worsen physician shortage, medical groups warn. Chronicle of Higher Education, 58(6), A17–A17.

[19] Moisse, K. (2011, April 7). Hospital errors common and underreported. ABCnews.com. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/hospital-errors-common-underreported-study/story?id=13310733#.TxxeY13310732NSRye.

[20] Crowley, C. F., & Nalder, E. (2009, August 9). Secrecy shields medical mishaps from public view. San Francisco Chronicle, p. A1.

[21] Salahi, L. (2012, January 6). Report: Hospital errors often unreported. ABCnews.com. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/hospital-staff-report-hospital-errors/story?id=15308019#.TxxfKWNSRyd.

[22] Rosenberg, T. (2011, April 25). Better hand-washing through technology. New York Times. Retrived from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/2004/2025/better-hand-washing-through-technology.

[23] Kavilanz, P. (2010, January 13). Health care: A “gold mine” for fraudsters. CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2010/01/13/news/economy/health_care_fraud.

[24] Shreibati, J. B., & Baker, L. C. (2011). The relationship between low back magnetic resonance imaging, surgery, and spending: Impact of physician self-referral status. Health Services Research, 46(5), 1362–1381.

[25] Eichenwald, K., & Kolata, G. (1999, May 16). Drug trials hide conflicts for doctors. New York Times, p. A1; Galewitz, P. (2009, February 22). Cutting-edge option: Doctors paid by drugmakers, but say trials not about money. Palm Beach Post. Retrieved from http://www.mdmediaconnection.com/printmedia.php#!prettyPhoto[iframe2]/0/.



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