Do you show bias against groups or individuals without even knowing it? Understanding our bias matte

Who me – biased? Patient Safety Week

He ngākau haukume tōku | Wiki Haumaru Tūroro
4 November 2019 by ACC
3 minute read

Health professionals are encouraged to watch new learning modules on understanding bias in health care, released today for Patient Safety Week.


We’re a strong believer that no one should experience bias in health care.

Every health professional wants the best for the people they help and has no intention of making their patients feel uncomfortable.

But it continues to happen, with health sector data clearly showing a persistent trend of inequity in health outcomes.

We've continued to be a keen supporter of Patient Safety Week | Wiki Haumaru Tūroro, an awareness-raising week held from 3 to 9 November.

It's coordinated by the Health Quality & Safety Commission, in partnership with us and PHARMAC.

The Commission’s medical director, Dr Iwona Stolarek, says clinicians can show both implicit and explicit bias, which can affect the care they provide to Māori and others.

It can be confronting and challenging as a clinician to accept that you might not treat all your patients equally.
- Dr Iwona Stolarek

"But the data is clear. From before birth to the end of life there is inequity in the health sector. Services are not as accessible for Māori, and even after services are accessed, Māori do not experience the same benefits as non-Māori. Bias can have a big role in this."

"One of the first steps to overcoming this bias is to recognise it. In these modules, health professionals are encouraged to examine their own biases and how they affect the health care they provide," she says.

I'd just like to be treated in an open, honest way, and treated fairly regardless of my colour, race or creed.

Anthony Stevens and his teenage son Tonia are featured in the learning modules. Tonia has Down syndrome, and Anthony talks about the bias Tonia and his whānau have experienced from health services.

"We have found that health professionals and administration staff assume we don’t understand Tonia’s condition. They make comments like 'You understand your son has Down syndrome?' or assume we’re poor because we are Māori.

"Often it comes across as patronising. In an ideal world, I'd just like to be treated in an open, honest way, and treated fairly regardless of my colour, race or creed," he says.

The modules have a strong focus on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, colonisation and racism.

Ria Earp, chair of the Commission’s Te Rōpū Māori (Māori advisory group), says failure to meet the requirements of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, failure to invest in Māori initiatives, and the ongoing effects of colonisation all contribute to poorer health outcomes for Māori.

"The distortions built from implicit bias practice lead directly to institutional racism."

"The articles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi provide a framework to build and maintain equitable health for Māori," she says.

About the learning modules

There are three learning modules which focus on:

  • understanding and addressing implicit bias
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi, colonisation and racism
  • experiences of bias.

The modules and more information on bias in health care are available on the Commission's website.

Health Quality & Safety Commission New Zealand - Learning and education modules on understanding bias in health care

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