The role of unconscious bias in surgical safety and outcomes

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Surgery



Document Type


Medical Subject Headings

Continental Population Groups; Ethnic Groups; *Healthcare Disparities; Humans; *Patient Safety; *Prejudice; Sex Factors; Surgical Procedures, Operative; Treatment Outcome; United States


Health Services Research | Surgery


Racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in health outcomes are a major challenge for the US health care system. Although the causes of these disparities are multifactorial, unconscious bias on the part of health care providers plays a role. Unconscious bias occurs when subconscious prejudicial beliefs about stereotypical individual attributes result in an automatic and unconscious reaction and/or behavior based on those beliefs. This article reviews the evidence in support of unconscious bias and resultant disparate health outcomes. Although unconscious bias cannot be entirely eliminated, acknowledging it, encouraging empathy, and understanding patients' sociocultural context promotes just, equitable, and compassionate care to all patients.


This work was undertaken while Dr. Santry was supported by the University of Massachusetts Center for Clinical and Translational Science Clinical Scholar Award funded by grant nos. UL1RR0319821 and KL2RR031981-01 from the National Institutes of Health.

Citation: Surg Clin North Am. 2012 Feb;92(1):137-51. Epub 2011 Dec 6. DOI 10.1016/j.suc.2011.11.006

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