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In this MD Newsline exclusive interview with pulmonary and critical care physician Dr. Jamie Rutland, we discuss how to address implicit bias and provide equitable care.

MD Newsline:

How can physicians address implicit bias in their practice? How might their doing so improve healthcare for underserved communities in general, and the Black community, in particular?

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Dr. Jamie Rutland: 

“I think if you’re a non-Black physician, what you have to do is you have to be able to recognize that a bias exists. And you’re going to have to treat Black patients special, as you would think, right?

That means that you’re going to have to make sure, ‘Hey, listen. I’m seeing you right now in the hospital. How are you going to get to the appointment for follow-up? How are you going to get there? Are you going to be able to make it? Where do you live? Who’s going to bring you to your appointment?’

All questions that we all take advantage of. The questions that we ask when there’s patients that we see in the hospital that we like. Right? ‘Here’s my card. Here’s my number. Here’s all of this.’ You’re going to have to treat Black patients in that way because that’s how you get them to have access.

They want to feel special. They want to feel VIP, so to speak. So you make them feel that way. Right? It’s tough for me as a pulmonary and critical care physician because most of the time, when I’m seeing those patients, they’re dying. So it’s very, very, hard.

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But when I’m seeing them outpatient, or if I see them in my office and my partner has seen them, right? My partners are white. When they see the patients, and they’re Black, I will stop and say hello and just, you know, treat them well. Right? Just in case they want to say, ‘hey, you know what? I want to see Dr. Rutland, just because I feel like, you know, we would vibe better.’ There’s just certain things you just have to do. And you have to realize that that bias exists.

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It can’t just be like every other patient. Again, other patients that have had access to healthcare that understand the consequences of not having access or not taking care of themselves, they are going to call you, right? They’re going to make the appointment.

But patients that look like me, that have spent their whole life away from a doctor, they don’t. It’s not like they don’t trust the doctor. It’s just that the doctor hasn’t been a significant part of their life that improves their life over time. And so you just have to spend that extra time with them and showing them what they need to do. Right?”


Responses have been condensed and lightly edited.