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A recent study out of Oregon suggests emergency medical responders—EMTs and paramedics—may be treating minority patients differently from the way they treat white patients.
Specifically, the scientists found that black patients in their study were 40 percent less likely to get pain medication than their white peers.
Jamie Kennel, head of emergency medical services programs at Oregon Health and Science University and the Oregon Institute of Technology, led the research, which was presented in December at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Scientific Symposium in Orlando, Fla.
The researchers received a grant to produce the internal report for the Oregon Emergency Medical Services department and the Oregon Office of Rural Health. Outright discrimination by paramedics is rare, the researchers say, and illegal; in these cases, unconscious bias may be at work.
A few years ago, Leslie Gregory was one of a very few black female emergency medical technicians working in Lenawee County, Mich. She said the study’s findings ring true based on her experience.
She remembered one particular call—the patient was down and in pain. As the EMTs arrived at the scene, Gregory could see the patient was black. And that’s when one of her colleagues groaned.
“I think it was something like: ‘Oh, my God. Here we go again,’” Gregory said. She worried —then, as now—that because the patient was black, her colleague assumed he was acting out to get pain medication.