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Biases lead to misdiagnoses of black patients in dermatology

| Jul 31, 2020 | Medical Malpractice |

In New Jersey and across the country, black patients are being medically misdiagnosed at alarming rates. Some experts say this is a partial reason for the low life expectancy among black Americans: the lowest, in fact, for any major group in the U.S. The trend can be clearly seen in dermatology where even well-known conditions like melanoma are frequently missed in black patients, leading to sometimes fatal consequences.

Much of this has to do with racial bias in medical education. Clinicians have usually not been trained in examining skin conditions in people of color, and they often lack the appropriate information tools. For example, clinicians may easily miss a rash, be it caused by lupus or by an adverse drug reaction, on a black patient’s skin. Some patients can mistakenly be transferred to a burn unit.

Inflammation caused by increased blood flow is easy to overlook in black patients because while it gives a red or pink color to white skin, it most often appears brown or violet in darker skin. Clinicians need to be trained on the different ways a condition will manifest itself as well as be aware of those conditions that arise more in black people than in other groups. Using images of people of color when explaining conditions is important for both doctors and patients.

Misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses are a major cause of medical malpractice claims, and these claims can sometimes end in large settlements that cover everything from past and future medical expenses to lost wages and pain and suffering. Diagnostic errors can lead to unnecessary treatments while the true condition worsens in the meantime. Those who were injured through a doctor’s negligence may want to consult a lawyer and hire him or her for the negotiation stage.