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Why Focus on Bias?
Health disparities are defined as "a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social or economic disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater social and/or economic obstacles to health and/or a clean environment based on their racial or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion” (National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities).
Health disparities may be perpetrated through biases on the parts of health services providers, whose implicit and explicit biases lead them to share health information differentially. Health information seekers can help to combat the resulting health disparities by seeking health information from varied and reputable sources. But we can all help to combat health disparities by identifying and tackling our implicit biases.
Advancing Health Equity: Health Professionals
Advancing Health Equity
The field of health equity, as a scholarly domain and as a central issue in medicine, has evolved a great deal in recent years. A lot has been learned, and important progress
has been made; yet there is still much that is being debated. Just as we would when exploring any new topic or area of study, when we want to learn more about the science and evidence in a particular area, one of the first tasks is to find trusted resources, so that one can learn more. In that spirit, teams from the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Center for Health Justice came together to produce this document, "Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts," providing physicians, health care workers and others a valuable foundational toolkit for health equity.
Health literacy is often defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions (US Department of Health and Human Services, Healthy People 2010). However, this definition places the burden of understanding on individuals. A better definition, proposed by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, sees health literacy as at the intersection of individuals, healthcare providers, and the environment.
Health literacy is an important factor in health disparity, "a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social or economic disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater social and/or economic obstacles to health and/or a clean environment based on their racial or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion” (National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities).
For more information, please see:
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2000. Healthy People 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Originally development for Ratzan SC, Parker RM. 2000. Introduction. In National Library of Medicine Current Bibliographies in Medicine: Health Literacy. Selden CR, Zorn M, Ratzan SC, Parker RM, Editors. NLM Pub. No. CBM 2000-1. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Pleasant, A., R. E. Rudd, C. O'Leary, M. K. Paasche-Orlow, M. P. Allen, W. Alvarado-Little, L. Myers, K. Parson, and S. Rosen. 2016. Considerations for a new definition of health literacy. Discussion Paper, National Academy of Medicine, Washington, DC.
Identifying Implicit Bias
Project Implicit is a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition - thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.
Combatting Implicit Biases
According to Dr. Kimberly Reynolds, one way to combat your own implicate biases is to C.H.E.C.K Your Biases:
- Connect: identify and acknowledge your bias
- Honor: recognize when your bias has been activated
- Engage: look for disconfirming evidence, counter-stereotype (think of examples that defy stereotypes), take on the perspective of the person you have an implicit bias against and try to understand them
- Communicate with Kindness (with yourself as well as others)