The role of unconscious bias in surgical safety and outcomes

Surg Clin North Am. 2012 Feb;92(1):137-51. doi: 10.1016/j.suc.2011.11.006. Epub 2011 Dec 6.


Racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in health outcomes are a major challenge for the US health care system. Although the causes of these disparities are multifactorial, unconscious bias on the part of health care providers plays a role. Unconscious bias occurs when subconscious prejudicial beliefs about stereotypical individual attributes result in an automatic and unconscious reaction and/or behavior based on those beliefs. This article reviews the evidence in support of unconscious bias and resultant disparate health outcomes. Although unconscious bias cannot be entirely eliminated, acknowledging it, encouraging empathy, and understanding patients' sociocultural context promotes just, equitable, and compassionate care to all patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethnicity
  • Healthcare Disparities* / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Patient Safety*
  • Prejudice*
  • Racial Groups
  • Sex Factors
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States