How sexism and racism impact medical care | Allen and Allen

How sexism and racism impact medical care

Two people complaining of lower back pain visit the same pain clinic, and one (a man), is given pain medication and the other (a woman), is told that she is overreacting or being “hysterical. When a man suffers from chronic pain, he’s labeled “stoic,” while a woman suffering from the same condition is labeled “overly emotional.” And if the woman happens to be Black, the assumptions about pain exaggeration or fabrication are magnified.

Black woman with headache reading medicine bottle

These are not fictional accounts from a Dickens novel. Instead, these are real instances reflecting the disparity in how our medical system treats men and women (especially Black women) for pain. A number of recent studies show that medical providers generally downplay complaints of pain by women and Black women.

Studies on sexism in the medical world

  • The Journal of the American Heart Association reported that women who visit emergency departments with chest pain waited 29% longer to be seen than men.
  • An analysis of 981 emergency room visits showed that women with acute abdominal pain were 25% less likely to be treated with opioid painkillers.
  • A study showed that middle-aged women with chest pain and other symptoms of heart disease were twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness compared with men who had the same symptoms.
  • A 2016 study found that half of white medical students and residents held at least one false belief about biological differences between Blacks and Whites. They were also more likely to underestimate Black patients’ pain.
  • Management of pain is one of the largest disparities between Blacks and Whites in the American health-care system, according to Tina Sacks, Associate Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of Invisible Visits: Black Middle Class Women in the American Healthcare System.

Pregnant lady and husband consult with doctor

Why are women being treated differently in the medical field?

Part of this gap in pain treatment may be due to the fact that women have traditionally been excluded from medical research.  Only in 2016 did the National Institute of Health mandate that sex be considered as a biological variable in most studies it funded. Black people have also been historically excluded from many funded studies.

Another reason may be outdated stereotypes about hormones, genetics and gender roles.

And perhaps there is a problem with the medical system itself, inserting a moral judgment when people seek pain relief.  Instead of questioning patients when they express feelings of pain, maybe the solution is to simply treat the pain. As Professor Roger Fillingim, director of the Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence at the University of Florida stated,

See: Women’s pain often is dismissed by doctors – Washington Post

If you have been injured in an accident and you are in pain, do not suffer in silence. Seek the treatment that you need. And if this accident was caused by another’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. The attorneys at Allen & Allen are there to help. Call for a free consultation today, at 866-388-1307.