Marta Flory, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor in Body and Cardiovascular Imaging at Stanford University, contributed this piece.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health disparities as “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.” As radiologists, we are uniquely positioned to address such disparities considering our central role in the healthcare continuum.
While not immediately apparent for most radiologists, the identity of our patients, i.e. gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, makes a huge impact on our field. These factors influence countless variables such as access to screening, limitations in guidelines and unconscious bias in their care.
Bias is everywhere, but it is important to realize that we can address these limitations to strengthen access and quality of care, both on the individual and practice levels. Medical students, residents, fellows, mid-career radiologists and those in leadership roles all bring important perspectives and skill sets that can help find solutions. What are some of the first steps we can take?
Start with awareness. Without acknowledging a problem, no solution can be developed. At an individual and practice level, we each have a responsibility to identify biases that can be harmful to our patients. Did you know patients can face challenges from the second they step into an imaging center based on how they look, dress or behave — and these biases can be passed on through their cycle of care? And when it comes to screening guidelines, recommendations may not work equally for all demographics due to limitations in the data used to create the guidelines in the first place. These are just two examples of opportunities for change that can make an enormous impact on our patients and the healthcare system.
Next, educational resources can help us better understand systemic weaknesses and identify solutions for consideration. An example from a practice-level perspective could be developing training modules about unconscious bias for all levels of staff, from reception to leadership.
Most importantly, you don’t have to be a chief or president to make change happen. Every one of us can take advantage of our individual sphere of influence and advocate for a healthcare system that prioritizes and values equity. An example could be the development of feedback loops in your practice or institution in which individuals can continually check in to identify opportunities for growth and quality improvement.
Individually, these are smaller pieces of the larger solution. However, our actions combined will make a meaningful impact on the advancement of health equity beyond the field of radiology. We can all do better for our patients. As we prioritize diversity and inclusion in radiology, we create a resilient, successful and thriving field — one prepared to navigate the challenges of the future.
I’m planning to continue this conversation during a new webinar series titled, “Life in Black and White: Race in Radiology, Healthcare and Health Outcomes.” I hope you’ll join me for the first session on Tuesday, July 18 at 8pm ET, where we’ll explore the concepts of identity and privilege as it relates to patient care.