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John Oliver Highlights Bias in Medical Care

In a recent segment of his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver explores how biases in medical care are harming consumers, Time reports. The segment examined how the treatment of women and minority patients can lead to worse health outcomes for those patients.

According to Oliver, several studies have shown that bias among doctors leads to a “woman-shaped blind spot in medicine.” For example, researchers found that women are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed when they are having a heart attack.

Many doctors miss heart attacks in women because the symptoms manifest differently than they do in men. When doctors expect women’s symptoms to mimic men’s, the likelihood of misdiagnosis increases.

These kinds of biases affect the outcomes of minority consumers as well. African American consumers are less likely to receive the recommend care. Minority consumers reported feeling that their concerns were not taken as seriously as they may be for white consumers. Studies indicate how this, too, leads to worse health outcomes.

The U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world and the rate is worse for black women, reportedly because doctors and nurses sometimes don’t believe them when it comes to pain or symptoms. “We are disbelieving black women to death,” Oliver argues.

Oliver points out that consumers who have bad experiences while seeking medical care in the past may be less inclined to seek that care in the future. In the end, this can create a compounding effect and hurt consumers even more.

Oliver has Wanda Sykes deliver advice for consumers who do not feel that their concerns are being taken seriously. Sykes makes three recommendations to viewers:

First, she recommended doctors under go bias training. Then she said diversity was needed at real hospitals, “not just the ones made up by Shonda Rimes.” Finally, she urged patients to advocate for themselves and if that doesn’t work, to “bring a white man to repeat everything that you’re saying.”


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