Study: More negative words used in Black patient medical records

Medical records of Black patients are much more likely to contain negative descriptions than records of white patients, according to a new study that appeared in the February 2022 issue of Health Affairs, which focused on racism and health. Experts are concerned that such descriptions could bias other physicians who see the records against Black patients.

José Figueroa, assistant professor of health policy and management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, commented on the study in a February 12, 2022 article in Verywellhealth. Figueroa, who was not involved with the study, noted that physicians frequently look at notes that other providers put in patients’ charts. “If you see words such as ‘challenging,’ ‘combative,’ ‘defensive,’ or ‘exaggerates’ in the medical record, you may know little else about the patient, but you may have to decide whether to treat with pain medicines,” he said. “The words in the EHRs [electronic health records] may be influencing people’s decisions about whether to offer certain services.”

He added that physicians often copy and paste patient information to be more efficient, which can perpetuate the use of negative descriptions.

Figueroa served as an adviser for the special issue of Health Affairs. He co-authored a paper in the issue that provided historical context and a detailed account of modern structural racism in health care policy and that highlighted its role in health care coverage, financing, and quality.

Also featured in the issue was David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health, who co-authored a paper arguing that there is a need to acknowledge the central role of racism in the national discourse on racial inequities in health, and that new equity-driven policies and practices are needed to tackle the problem.

Read the Verywellhealth article: Physicians Use More Negative Words in Black Patient Records. Here’s Why That’s Harmful