What is Discriminatory Care?

Medical professional taking a patient's blood pressure.

Discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, typically on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

Discriminatory Care in Healthcare Settings

Discriminatory care in healthcare settings is unjust or prejudicial care, typically based on race, age, or sex. A healthcare setting is any setting in which healthcare is provided. By understanding discriminatory care and what types of people are most at risk, you can protect yourselves and your loved ones by recognizing and calling out discriminatory practices in medical appointments and visits.

Why Does Discriminatory Care Exist?

Discriminatory care exists for the same reason that discrimination does – biases. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bias consists of attitudes, behaviors, and actions that are prejudiced in favor of or against one person or group compared to another.

Examples of Discriminatory Care

There are many forms of discriminatory care. Some examples are:


According to a study published in the Pain Research and Management journal exploring gender bias in healthcare, the following was found:

  • Medical professionals often view men with chronic pain as “brave” or “stoic” but view women with chronic pain as “emotional” or “hysterical.”
  • When a patient reports pain, doctors are more likely to assume that there is a psychological cause for women’s pain and are more likely to assume that there is a physical cause for men’s pain.


According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) exploring racial bias in healthcare, the following was found:

  • 73% of medical students hold at least one false belief about biological differences between races. For example, believing that Black individuals have higher pain tolerance than their white counterparts.


According to a study by Regis College exploring age-based bias in healthcare, the following was found:

  • Doctors are more likely to dismiss treatable conditions in older patients than younger ones, assuming the cause is simply old age.
  • Medical professionals are more likely to assume their patient is cognitively impaired if older and, as a result, are less likely to explain the patient’s medical conditions.

Consequences of Discriminatory Care

One of the primary consequences of discriminatory care is that patients are more likely to be undertreated. Undertreating patients results in the following:

  • Increased likelihood of diagnostic errors.
  • Increased likelihood of improper treatment plans.
  • Decreased patient engagement with medical providers - whether they stop seeking medical treatment altogether or stop mentioning symptoms for fear of dismissal or not being believed.

Is Discriminatory Care Considered Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional or institution fails to uphold a certain standard of care, causing injury to the patient.

Discriminatory care, in itself, is not medical malpractice, but it can cause medical malpractice. If discriminatory care leads a medical professional or institution to fail to uphold a certain standard of care, causing injury to the patient, it is the cause of medical malpractice.

Related Reading:

New Mexico Medical Malpractice Lawyers

If you or a loved one were injured due to discriminatory care, it is important to reach out to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to protect your rights and ensure that justice is served. At Curtis & Co., our attorneys have decades of combined legal experience and a long history of success in holding medical providers and facilities responsible. We offer free initial consultations and do not collect any attorney fees or litigation-related expenses unless we recover a settlement or verdict for you.

For a free consultation with one of our medical malpractice attorneys, call (505) 871-3740 or reach us online using our secure contact form.

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