Survey: 59 percent of doctors have heard biased, offensive comments from patients

A new survey from WebMD, Medscape and STAT dug deeper into the prevalence of patient bias. Among 822 physician respondents, 59 percent said they’d heard a derogatory remark about their personal characteristics from a patient within the past five years.

Derogatory comments can come from anyone — even a patient.

A new WebMD/Medscape survey, which was produced with STAT, took a closer look at the prevalence of patient bias and what it means for the healthcare field at large.

The survey included responses from almost 1,200 medical professionals and over 1,000 patients.

Of the 822 physician respondents, 59 percent said they’d heard an offensive remark about their personal characteristics from a patient within the past five years. Most commonly, the statements were regarding their age, but doctors also frequently heard negative comments about their gender, ethnicity and race.

Multiple providers reported hearing statements regarding their weight, religion, accent, sexual orientation and political views as well.

The bias bubbles up even more when the data is broken down.

Only 6 percent of male physicians heard offensive statements about their gender, compared to 41 percent of female doctors.

Thirty percent of African American physicians, 43 percent of Asian physicians and 37 percent of Hispanic physicians experienced bias about their ethnicity, compared to a mere 11 percent of white doctors.

And the opinions aren’t only targeted at physicians. Fifty-three percent of nurses, 55 percent of nurse practitioners and 57 percent of physician assistants said they’d heard derogatory remarks from a patient.

The prejudice can go the other way, too. Eleven percent of patient respondents who have visited a medical professional in the last five years said they have heard negative comments from a provider. While that percentage is lower than it is among physicians, WebMD chalks up the disparity to the fact that patients only see a few doctors every five years, while doctors see hundreds of patients during that time period.

When patient bias does occur, it takes a toll on the provider. Twenty-nine percent of physicians said the experience had a strong effect on them, and 32 percent said it had a moderate effect on them. Forty percent said the incident had little or no impact on them.

Additionally, the survey found 24 percent of doctors have documented the incidence of prejudice on the patient’s medical record. Ten percent reported the occurrence to an authority figure, and 9 percent refused to care for the biased patient.

For the patients who experienced prejudice from their provider, 42 percent reported they wouldn’t take any action. Of those who would or had, 26 percent said they changed providers and 13 percent said they planned to pick a new provider. Fifteen percent confronted their provider about the occurrence. Eleven percent wrote a negative online review, and 7 percent filed a formal complaint.

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