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Doctors Treating Minority Ovarian Cancer Patients May Not Be Aware of Their Own Implicit Biases

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October 1, 2020

Training and respect can help physicians overcome biases and build trust with their patients

  • Black ovarian cancer patients face greater treatment disparities and higher mortality than white patients
  • Provider awareness of implicit biases is one key to reducing these disparities
  • Training and respect are also important to solidifying the doctor-patient relationship
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Evidence strongly suggests a higher mortality rate and a lack of high-quality treatment among Black ovarian cancer patients than white patients. Although the exact reason for this disparity isn’t clear, factors ranging from socioeconomic inequality to access to health care may play roles. Providers also carry a bias, though they may not always recognize it. A little bit of training can go a long way toward reversing these implicit biases.

“It’s kind of this unknown bias that you have. You’re not intentionally acting that way, but you have it in you and you don’t even know it,” Dr. Dana Chase, gynecologic oncologist at Arizona Oncology, tells SurvivorNet. “For a patient, that can start from front office check-in.”

One method for reducing biases and cementing trust between the patient and provider is building awareness, says Dr. Elizabeth Jewell, gynecologic oncologist and director of surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “A check of our own biases that we are bringing to the conversation.” She also recommends enrolling as many minority women as possible in clinical trials, to make sure treatments are appropriate for a diverse patient population.

Dr. Rebecca Arend, gynecologic oncologist at the University of Alabama Medicine, offers minority patients who are undergoing clinical trials navigators, “so they have someone who can really guide them through the tedious process of the hospital system.”

Mutual respect is also foundational to the doctor-patient relationship, Dr. Thomas Herzog, gynecologic oncologist at University of Cincinnati Health tells SurvivorNet. “It begins with respecting one another and making sure that’s pervasive throughout the organization.”