4 ways to handle race-based patient requests

In the wake of African-American nurses suing their hospital employer for acquiescing to a father's demand to ban black caregivers from treating his baby, the little-discussed "open secret" in medicine is drawing more attention, the Associated Press noted.

The American Medical Association's ethics code "bars doctors from refusing to treat people based on race, gender and other criteria," the AP noted, "but there are no specific policies for handling race-based requests from patients." Therefore, it is up to healthcare organizations themselves to create and enforce guidelines directing how personnel should address patients' racially motivated requests, according to a recent article from American Medical News.

Boston-based health attorney David C. Harlow, told amednews practices should heed these tips when creating such policies:

  • Specify to patients that they have the right to refuse treatment, but not to demand a certain type of treatment, according to case law surrounding the issue.
  • Disclose your practice's nondiscriminatory policies prominently to patients.
  • Train employees how to deal with patient requests to be treated only by a particular race. Specifically, rather than heeding to patient demands, allow health professionals to make their own choices about whether they agree to be assigned a racist patient.
  • Remind patients that giving in to race-based demands increases the risk of a bad outcome because it disrupts the practice's usual workflow.

In the Michigan case, for example, nurses stated the order to keep black caregivers away from the baby "left nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit 'in a ball of confusion,'" according to the AP. One nurse told her attorney, "You know what really bothered me? I didn't know what to do if the baby was choking or dying. Am I going to get fired if I go over there?"

To learn more:
- read the article from American Medical News
- see the AP article