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Who me – biased? He ngākau haukume tōku?

Aotearoa Patient Safety Day
04 November 2019

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

Patient Safety Week | Wiki Haumaru Tūroro is an awareness-raising week held from 3–9 November. 

It is coordinated by the Health Quality & Safety Commission, in partnership with the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) 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.

‘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.

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: Understanding bias in health care

There are three modules focusing on:

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

The modules come with questions for learning reflections. Once these questions are answered, a certificate can be generated which is helpful when applying for professional development points. The modules are available on the Ministry of Health's LearnOnline platform, and on the Commission’s website at Learning and education modules on understanding bias in health care.

Supporting information on bias in health care is available on the Commission's website including links to medical colleges and associations’ cultural competency information, health literacy information and further learning.

This is the last Patient Safety Week to be held in November. From next year, New Zealand will be aligning with the new World Health Organization Patient Safety Day on 17 September.

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