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Stigma & Bias in Healthcare

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

What is Stigma in Healthcare?

Stigma is a powerful social process of devaluing people or groups based on a real or perceived difference—such as gender, age, sexual orientation, behavior, or ethnicity.

Stigma in health facilities undermines diagnosis, treatment, and successful health outcomes. Addressing stigma is fundamental to delivering quality healthcare and achieving optimal health.

What is an example of a stigma? As noted and can be found is the BMC Medicine Journal, Which can be found HERE


One of the cases is Ellen Maud Bennett, who died in 2018. According to the medical journal in Canada, she died from cancer after being misdiagnosed. The diagnosis came later when the cancer was beyond the treatment stage. That is just one of the cases which have affected patients in hospitals.


What is an Example of a Stigma and How Does Stigma Affect Health?

Health condition-related stigma is stigma related to living with a specific disease or health condition. Such stigma may be experienced in all spheres of life; however, stigma in health facilities is particularly egregious, negatively affecting people seeking health services at a time when they are at their most vulnerable. In health facilities, the manifestations of stigma are widely documented, ranging from outright denial of care, provision of sub-standard care, physical and verbal abuse, to more subtle forms, such as making certain people wait longer or passing their care off to junior colleagues.


One of the cases is Ellen Maud Bennett, who died in 2018. She died from cancer after being misdiagnosed. The diagnosis came later when the cancer was beyond the treatment stage. Being told to lose weight rather than address her health concerns. There are many instances of delayed or lack of treatment being offered to patients simply based on a story the practioner has made on a perception of the person rather than the information being given by them.


Unconscious Bias and Stigma

Bias and stigmatization are some of the biggest challenges being faced in healthcare. Many have been discriminated against due to their gender, religion, weight, sexual orientation, and even financial circumstances. When we look at HIV + patients and folks, from diagnosis, to treatment and then living in community, this is and many cases still a miss informed infection, although treatment has moved so far ahead that, with treatment can lower the viral load so much so that it becomes undetectable and thus untransmittable. Leading to folks living a long and healthy life. This is from trained healthcare professionals.

Even on our best days, being self-aware, thinking before we speak or interact, there can be unchecked thoughts, and assumptions lingering in the back of our minds, I would encourage you to take the Harvard Implicit Bias test which can be found HERE. An imperfect test, but it will certainly get you thinking, as it did me when I took. I have since taken it several times, as I grow, to check in with myself.

What are the 3 Types of Stigma?


· Structural Stigma: This refers to societal conditions, institutional practices, and cultural norms. These are the elements that constrain resources and opportunities.

· Public Stigma: When it comes to public stigma is all about beliefs, negative attitudes, and behavior held by the community. In other words, it comprises negative social norms.


· Self-stigma: It is the internalization of public stigma from an individual who has the condition.


Addressing Stigma & Bias in Healthcare

There are two kinds of bias that is conscious and unconscious. Conscious bias is based on one's discriminatory values and beliefs. On the other hand, unconscious bias refers to thoughts that unknowingly alters someone's perception.


The above-mentioned types of bias is happens within healthcare, how can we address it? Below are ways on how to address bias.

· Organizations can commit to cultural shift through building institutional and individual capacity change. This involves creating a hospitable environment for the medical personnel to work in. This starts from training admission and evaluation.


· Training the medical personal on the effects of conscious bias. This can be done through training and team-building seminars. Individual reflection, where they are encouraged to do some introspection to identify what triggers their emotions and thought process. Identification of the thoughts is the first step in addressing. Once that is done, they can work on the issue and begin to see the patience as a person with many intersections.


In conclusion


We all at times find ourselves being judgmental about an issue or someone. That is normal, but the problem begins when we start to project these thoughts onto the person or group of people. We are aware of the problem and we should aim, to see people in colour rather than in black and white.




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