Penn Study Finds Clinician Peer Networks Could Eliminate Gender, Racial Bias In Healthcare

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The Annenberg School for Communication on September 29, 2019. Credit: Zihan Chen

A recent study by Penn found that the use of clinician peer networks dramatically reduces gender and racial bias in healthcare.

According to the study – led by Damon Centola, a professor at the Annenberg School of Communication, the Department of Sociology and Penn Engineering – clinician peer networks improved the accuracy of treatment decisions for patients. The research, published in Nature Communications, aims to introduce safer and more equitable health care for women and minorities by removing stigma, an issue that negatively impacts the world, Penn Today reported.

The researchers divided a sample of 840 clinicians into two groups, each of whom watched a video of a patient giving clinical history and risk factors for heart disease. Half of the clinicians watched a white male actor and the other half a black actress as a patient. Without peer networks, clinicians were 49% more likely to refer the black woman home and 78% more likely to refer the white man to the emergency department.

After these initial results, the researchers divided the clinicians into an experimental group and a control group. The control group watched the video alone without any input from the other participants, which did not change the previous results. The researchers put in contact the 40 clinicians of the experimental group and offered them the possibility of modifying their evaluations after consultation.

For the experimental group, clinical precision and treatment disparities improved for both white male and black female. Both patients received guideline recommended care at the same rate.

“We found that by changing the structure of information sharing networks between clinicians, we could change the biased perceptions of physicians about their patients’ clinical information,” Centola told Penn Today. “Simply put, physicians tend to think differently in networks than when they are alone. ”

With the rise of telemedicine, peer networks also provide an opportunity for new information sharing technologies that support clinical decision making, Penn Today reported.

“The future of medicine is the use of network technologies to improve healthcare. Our next step is to work with hospital systems to implement effective peer-to-peer networking programs across the country, ”Centola told Penn Today.

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