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The Other Bias in Healthcare

One of the challenges the pandemic has brought into focus is the challenges patients of color face when trying to get quality medical care. Specifically, it is far more difficult for these patients to get pain relief because first of all, healthcare providers may not even believe them when they complain of pain. But there is another population whose pain is dismissed as well: female patients of all races.

Women know that an anti-female patient bias has been present in health care, but now there are studies that validate our experiences. It is no surprise that women are more likely to receive a prescription for sedatives than painkillers, because obviously their pain is a manifestation of “hysteria. (1)” Women wait an average of 33% longer for pain relief in the Emergency Department when presenting with abdominal pain than men (2).

In addition to pure gender bias, part of this discrepancy is due to the fact that the medicine is significantly less familiar with women’s bodies and ailments. For example, a 2000 study from The New England Journal of Medicine showed that women are seven times more likely than men to be sent home from the ED during a heart attack because their symptoms are different than those of men, and therefore are not what their HCPs are expecting to see.(3)

Women with chronic pain and connective tissue disorders suffer needlessly while the medical establishment continues to gaslight them. However, the fact that these studies even exist is cause for hope that the attitudes may be changing.

1. Hoffmann, Diane E. and Tarzian, Anita J., "The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain" (2001). Faculty Scholarship. 145.

2. Chen, E.H., Shofer, F.S., Dean, A.J., Hollander, J.E., Baxt, .W.G., Robey, J.L., Sease, K.L. and Mills, A.M. (2008), Gender Disparity in Analgesic Treatment of Emergency Department Patients with Acute Abdominal Pain. Academic Emergency Medicine, 15: 414-418.

3. N Engl J Med 2000; 342:1163-1170. DOI: 10.1056/NEJM200004203421603

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