Gender Bias May Affect Care of People

Toronto researchers used two standardized or "mystery" patients, one male and one female, both with moderate knee osteoarthritis reporting the same symptoms of knee pain. The patients received assessments from 67 physicians in Ontario.

Physicians were twice as likely to recommend total knee replacement surgery, known as arthroplasty, to a male patient compared to a female patient. Overall, 67 per cent of physicians recommended total knee arthroplasty to the male patient compared with 33 per cent who recommended it to the female patient.

This new study involved 38 family physicians and 29 orthopaedic surgeons because the researchers were interested in whether barriers for women exist between the family physician and the patient in obtaining a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon or between the surgeon and the patient in the decision to offer total knee replacement. A male patient was referred to an orthopaedic surgeon 35 per cent more often than a female patient. The study also found that a man was nine times more likely than a woman to be recommended for a total knee replacement.

“Physicians are susceptible to the same social stereotyping that affects all of our behavior. Decisions that stem from unconscious biases are not deliberate - physicians would be unaware of their unconscious biases affecting their decisions”, says lead author Dr. Cornelia Borkhoff.

“The next step is to develop creative interventions to address these disparities in health care”, says the principal investigator of the study, Dr. James Wright, a Professor at the University of Toronto.; Source: University of Toronto