Bias Busters: 10 Strategies for Recognizing and Overcoming Biases in Healthcare

Picture this: A transgender patient, Alex, seeks healthcare services at a new clinic and encounters a subtle shift in the atmosphere. At Alex’s former clinic, they had experienced understanding and acceptance, and received high-quality care. But at the new clinic, unexamined biases surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation had already begun to influence the quality of care Alex was receiving. After a few negative encounters, they decide to leave the clinic.

As healthcare professionals, we must proactively address and dismantle biases rooted in race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, and disabilities. Let’s explore practical strategies to become effective “bias busters” in the diverse landscape of healthcare.

1. Cultural Competence: Embrace the Mosaic of Identities

Cultural competence extends beyond acknowledging differences; it involves actively understanding and respecting diverse identities. Incorporate comprehensive cultural competency training to recognize and appreciate the nuances of race, ethnicity, and cultural backgrounds. For instance, learn about specific health beliefs within different communities to offer more tailored and effective care. By incorporating this knowledge into your care approach, you can build trust and provide healthcare recommendations that align with your patients’ cultural practices.

2. LGBTQ+ Sensitivity: Creating Safe Spaces

Develop an LGBTQ+-inclusive environment by ensuring that staff members are trained to navigate gender-affirming language and provide resources that cater to the unique healthcare needs of the LGBTQ+ community. This creates a safe space where patients like Alex feel seen, heard, and respected.

3. Addressing Socioeconomic Biases: Bridging Gaps in Care

Patients from different socioeconomic backgrounds may face disparities in healthcare. Bias can manifest in assumptions about a patient’s ability to adhere to treatment plans based on their economic status. Actively work to bridge these gaps by implementing outreach programs, facilitating access to resources, and offering support services that address the socioeconomic determinants of health.

Implementing a digital care program is one of the most powerful ways to improve access to care through tools such as telehealth, home exercise programs, and patient mobile apps.

4. Disability-Inclusive Practices: Shattering Ableism

Challenge biases associated with disabilities by adopting disability-inclusive practices. Ensure physical spaces are accessible, provide communication aids for patients with speech or hearing impairments, and offer comprehensive support for those with varying abilities. This not only breaks down physical barriers but also dismantles preconceived notions about the capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

5. Rooting Out Racial Biases: From Awareness to Action

Addressing racial biases requires more than passive awareness—it demands active anti-racist efforts. Integrate ongoing diversity training that delves into systemic racism and its impact on healthcare. Encourage open conversations about unconscious biases, and foster a commitment to dismantling discriminatory practices within healthcare institutions.

6. Trauma-Informed Care: Navigating the Shadows of Past Experiences

A majority of patients have been exposed to some type of trauma, whether historical, experiential, developmental, or relational; bias is included in this mix. As a result, implementation of a trauma-informed care approach across practice settings is a must. This involves understanding the potential triggers tied to past experiences and adjusting your approach accordingly. Create a supportive environment that prioritizes patient comfort, safety, and empowerment. For example:

  • Allow patients to share their experiences at their own pace, respecting their need for control over the narrative.
  • Offer choices whenever possible, allowing patients to make decisions about their care, within the bounds of medical necessity.
  • Foster a culture of sensitivity and empathy among staff members, encouraging ongoing education about diverse trauma experiences.
  • Allow patients to decline certain aspects of care if it triggers discomfort, and work collaboratively to find alternative solutions.

7. Intersectionality: Recognizing Multifaceted Identities

Patients often embody multiple identities simultaneously. For instance, a transgender person of color may face unique challenges that arise from the intersectionality of race and gender identity. Recognize these multifaceted identities and tailor care plans accordingly, ensuring that patients receive personalized and respectful attention.

8. Advocacy for Inclusive Policies: Beyond Individual Practices

Become an advocate for inclusive policies within your healthcare institution. Encourage the development and implementation of policies that explicitly address biases based on race, sexual orientation, disability, or socioeconomic status. Actively participate in diversity committees and initiatives to drive systemic change.

9. Patient-Centered Language: Breaking Down Linguistic Biases

Language matters. Be mindful of the words you choose, as linguistic biases can perpetuate stereotypes. Adopt patient-centered language that respects diverse identities and experiences. For instance, use gender-neutral language and avoid assumptions about relationships, ensuring that your communication is inclusive and affirming.

10. Ongoing Self-Reflection: A Personal Commitment to Change

Bias busting begins with self-reflection. Regularly assess your own attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs. Challenge biases as they arise, and actively seek feedback from colleagues and patients. Cultivate a mindset of continuous learning and improvement, recognizing that biases can evolve, and our commitment to overcoming them should persist.

In conclusion, our journey as bias busters demands a comprehensive and intersectional approach. By actively confronting and dismantling biases rooted in race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, and disabilities, healthcare professionals can pave the way for an inclusive and equitable healthcare landscape. Let’s collectively champion a patient-centered approach that respects the rich tapestry of human diversity.