Stigmatizing language in medical records; Patients feel judged by doctors

Delaney O'Neil, Reporter

Based on two recent studies found by Gracie Himmelstein, a physician training at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, racial bias is found to be entered into the notes of patients’ electronic records. Patients’ first impressions are recorded on these charts and it has been found that blacks patients are portrayed negatively compared to white patients. 

     In her study, 48,000 hospital admission notes were analyzed for their stigmatizing language and record substance abuse. This language was used more often for black patients. 

     A similar study from Health Affairs analyzed another 40,000 medical notes from a Chicago medical center, which concluded black patients were more likely to be described as not complying with or are resistant to treatment. 

     As a result, the Health Affairs team created a computer program to identify negative phrases in electronic records. It found that black patients were 2.5 times more likely to have negative connotations in their records and 1.3 times more likely to have stigmatizing words.

     According to Science News, the negative and stigmatizing language has potential to result in treatment decisions and may make doctors less likely to offer sufficient medications. 

     Sociology teacher, Mr. Scott Larbalestrier says, “it is human nature for racial bias to be in hospitals.” He says that the bias could be socioeconomic, which is not necessarily racial, and could be gender based as well. 

     More so, “people have to keep an open mind to learn what their bias is, and nurses and doctors will hopefully be accepting of this,” according to Larbalestrier. 

     Freshman Anna Warren says, “I feel like when a patient walks into a doctors office, they are judged by the color of their skin or general first impressions.” Freshman Ava Manns says that she “also think[s] if someone walks in with a partner that is the same sex or color, they would be judged based on first impressions. Individuals that are judged would probably receive marginal treatment if the first impression was negative.” 

     The 21st Century Cures Act now gives patients the right to read their own electronic records. In a survey of 23,000 patients, 10.5 percent felt that they were being judged and were offended when reading their own record. 

      Researchers are making efforts to remove patient stigma by identifying the patient by their efforts to receive care instead of language that wrongly identifies the individual. Instead of just labeling a patient “non-compliant,” health care providers need to consider more context within patient stories, according to Science News.