IMPORTANCE: Significant health inequities persist among minority and socially disadvantaged patients. Better understanding of how unconscious biases affect clinical decision making may help to illuminate clinicians' roles in propagating disparities. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether clinicians' unconscious race and/or social class biases correlate with patient management decisions. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: We conducted a web-based survey among 230 physicians from surgery and related specialties at an academic, level I trauma center from December 1, 2011, through January 31, 2012. INTERVENTIONS: We administered clinical vignettes, each with 3 management questions. Eight vignettes assessed the relationship between unconscious bias and clinical decision making. We performed ordered logistic regression analysis on the Implicit Association Test (IAT) scores and used multivariable analysis to determine whether implicit bias was associated with the vignette responses. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Differential response times (D scores) on the IAT as a surrogate for unconscious bias. Patient management vignettes varied by patient race or social class. Resulting D scores were calculated for each management decision. RESULTS: In total, 215 clinicians were included and consisted of 74 attending surgeons, 32 fellows, 86 residents, 19 interns, and 4 physicians with an undetermined level of education. Specialties included surgery (32.1%), anesthesia (18.1%), emergency medicine (18.1%), orthopedics (7.9%), otolaryngology (7.0%), neurosurgery (7.0%), critical care (6.0%), and urology (2.8%); 1.9% did not report a departmental affiliation. Implicit race and social class biases were present in most respondents. Among all clinicians, mean IAT D scores for race and social class were 0.42 (95% CI, 0.37-0.48) and 0.71 (95% CI, 0.65-0.78), respectively. Race and class scores were similar across departments (general surgery, orthopedics, urology, etc), race, or age. Women demonstrated less bias concerning race (mean IAT D score, 0.39 [95% CI, 0.29-0.49]) and social class (mean IAT D score, 0.66 [95% CI, 0.57-0.75]) relative to men (mean IAT D scores, 0.44 [95% CI, 0.37-0.52] and 0.82 [95% CI, 0.75-0.89], respectively). In univariate analyses, we found an association between race/social class bias and 3 of 27 possible patient-care decisions. Multivariable analyses revealed no association between the IAT D scores and vignette-based clinical assessments. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Unconscious social class and race biases were not significantly associated with clinical decision making among acute care surgical clinicians. Further studies involving real physician-patient interactions may be warranted.
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