Unfortunately, just like many spheres of life in contemporary society, medical decision-making and the overall attitudes in healthcare settings are often impacted by stereotypes concerning multiple groups of the population and communities. In healthcare, stereotypes affecting patients create observable threats and risks to the health of the latter; in order to address and prevent stereotypes, medical professionals need to be aware of the triggers that set them off and situations that can potentially result in biased perceptions (Burgess, Warren, Phelan, Davidio, & van Ryn, 2010).
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Facts and Statistics
Ageism is one of the most common kinds of stereotypes in healthcare; its prevalence rates are consistently high (17% to over 40%) in many studies as older patients report their doctors’ inclination to undertreat due to the belief that the ailments from which the patients suffer are caused by their age (Abdou, Fingerhut, Jackson, & Wheaton, 2016; Ferguson, 2015; Ouchida & Lachs, 2015).
Similar stereotyping in healthcare is observed in relation to people’s weight, race, gender, sexual orientation, mental health, and social status; statistically due to negative stereotypes employed by the medical practitioners, the patients representing vulnerable groups tend to feel distrustful towards the clinicians, avoid visiting doctors and undergoing vaccination, experience depression, hypertension, and have an overall poorer health status (University of Southern California, 2015).
Experience of Stereotyping in Healthcare
I have personal experiences of witnessing situations of other people being negatively stereotyped by medical professionals or facing other types of unfairness inflicted by their social conditions that eventually resulted in risks and threats producing an adverse impact on the health of the vulnerable individuals.
For example, I have a friend who is affected by excessive weight and has been trying to address this problem for some time. She watches her diet daily and makes sure to eat home-cooked meals and avoid fried, fatty, and fast foods. However, over the last year, she has been complaining about discomfort in her stomach and digestion problems which she has been trying to solve by means of researching the possible causes and adding more changes to her diet.
When I advised her to go and consult a doctor about this issue, my friend stated that she tried doing that a couple of times with different doctors and judging from her weight they immediately assumed that she ate a lot of fast food and that all she needed was eating more wholesome foods, fiber, soups, and vegetables. To her attempts to explain that these were the exact products she ate daily, the doctors simply told her that she needed to lose some weight. Such a response made my friend angry, and since that time she lost trust in doctors and has been trying to resolve her problems independently.
Experience of Healthcare Inequality
Another situation I witnessed included a case of social unfairness to a representative of a racial minority. The individual involved is a recent immigrant who has a low level of income and has to work long hours to support himself and his family. He is suffering from a dental condition, and his oral health is deteriorating. However, due to his low socioeconomic status, he cannot afford to take a day off and visit a dentist. As a result, his poor dental health became a problem in his workplace (since he has to work with customers) and now he is at risk of losing his job due to his health issue. Poor access to dental care is a common problem among low-income communities, and this is a real-life example of this inequality.
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Abdou, C. M., Fingerhut, A. W., Jackson, J. S., & Wheaton, F. (2016). Healthcare stereotype threat in older adults in the health and retirement study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 50(2), 191–198.
Burgess, D, J., Warren, J., Phelan, S., Davidio, M., & van Ryn, J. (2010). Stereotype threat and health disparities: what medical educators and future physicians need to know. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 25(2), 169–177.
Ferguson, D. (2015). Healthcare stereotyping can negatively affect patient outcomes.
Ouchida, K. M., & Lachs, M. S. (2015). Not for doctors only: Ageism in healthcare.
University of Southern California. (2015). Healthcare: How stereotypes hurt.