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Kogod Researchers Awarded $7,500 to Examine Bias in Telemedicine

Katherine Nau Stinton

Jul 1, 2021

A team of Kogod researchers, including MIH’s Kelli Frias, was awarded funding to study racial bias in pediatric urgent care.

Though not a strictly new technology, the use of telemedicine for both routine and emergency healthcare services saw rapid and widespread growth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—for the average consumer, 2020 was the first year during which they could readily access this type of care. With this drastic expansion, a research team consisting of Alexandra Mislin, Kelli Frias, Itir Karaesmen and Meredith Burnett, all faculty at American University, with Sabah Iqbal, the Medical Director of PM Pediatrics, is concerned that the “contextually sparse telemedicine settings” pose an increased risk of race- or gender-based bias directed at the physicians.

With a $7,500 grant, the team will be able to research these biases and their implications on both physician and patient well-being.

“Healthcare organizations rely on service encounter evaluations from patients reporting on their care to assess physician performance,” the researchers explained. “Inherent biases in these evaluations may increase workplace inequalities.”  They cite impact on compensation and professional advancement as potential outcomes of negative evaluations. Satisfaction ratings from these evaluations also impact reimbursements from insurance companies.

There is additional concern that patients holding these biases may be less likely to listen to female or minority physicians, thus exacerbating their ailments and leading to unnecessary additional costs for the consumer.

The team has strategically focused their research on pediatric urgent care given that pediatricians are typically paid less and are more often female; in pediatric urgent care scenarios, it is less likely that the patients have developed a rapport with the providers that “might otherwise mitigate the impact of such biases.”

After determining the true extent and implications of these biases, Mislin, Frias, Karaesmen, Burnett, and Iqbal will develop strategies for urgent-care organizations to reassess the influence of encounter evaluations as these pertain to employee incentives, telemedicine protocols, and more.

The research is expected to take place this summer and the findings communicated in 2022.

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